Watchdogs Urge FEC Commissioners to Reject Proposal from Commissioner Goodman to Undermine Party Coordination with Candidates


The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 sent a letter today to the FEC Commissioners urging them to reject a proposal to be offered at the agency’s October 29 meeting by Commissioner Lee Goodman to provide “regulatory relief for political parties.”

According to the letter:

The most alarming suggestion in this proposal is to exempt from the definition of “coordinated” spending any public communication that refers to a candidate unless the communication contains express advocacy or republished campaign materials.  Agenda Doc. at 1.  While this proposal is made in the limited context of spending that would tally against the party coordinated spending limits, it is an approach to the concept of “coordination” that is invalid and discredited ….

As the Supreme Court has said, “the line between express advocacy and other types of election-influencing expression is, for Congress’ purposes, functionally meaningless.” McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 217 (2003). By using a “functionally meaningless” standard to draw the line between coordinated spending and independent spending (even if, in the first instance, just for parties), the Commission would be opening the door to the general evisceration of the coordination standard of the law.

In today’s letter, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center strongly objected to the Commission making any decision to initiate a rulemaking on these matters now, in light of other, far more pressing, rulemaking obligations the Commission has failed to fulfill. 

According to Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan,

If there is anything the FEC does not need to do it is to undermine one of the few regulations the agency is actually enforcing.  There is a long list of regulations the agency should fix first in order to stem the unprecedented circumvention of the laws passed by Congress and which the agency is charged with enforcing.  Commissioner Goodman’s proposal is yet another indication of the degree to which the agency has lost its bearings and how far it has strayed from its mission.

According to the letter from the watchdog groups:

The Commission has been derelict in failing to revise its rules for disclosure of electioneering communications and independent expenditures, a failure that has resulted in the lack of disclosure of the source of hundreds of millions of dollars that is being spent to influence federal elections.  This is a major and growing problem, for which the Commission’s inability to muster a majority to even begin a rulemaking is a national scandal.

The letter further stated:

So too, the Commission’s failure to even begin a rulemaking on the agency’s inadequate and overwhelmed coordination rules is an equal dereliction of duty.  While some Commissioners may believe that the many blatant and direct dealings between candidates, their aides, their agents, their former aides, their Super PACs and their Super PAC donors do not technically trigger the existing, flawed coordination rules, few people in this country take seriously the claim that the individual candidate Super PACs established by virtually every presidential candidate are really independent of the candidates who established them

Although this is now the second presidential cycle in which this problem has been utterly apparent—and which results in the spectacle of presidential candidates raising and benefiting from multi-million dollar contributions—the Commission has yet to undertake a rulemaking to investigate the problem or to consider a solution.  Again, the Commission’s passivity in the face of an obvious crisis at the heart of its jurisdictional responsibility is a national scandal.

To read the full letter, click here.