Declaring his disappointment with the Federal Election Commission, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and several colleagues announced today that they want to see the “captured agency” replaced by a new entity called the Federal Election Administration. “Although it was set up to administer and enforce the federal campaign finance laws, the FEC has not been doing its job,” McCain said during a news conference.
“The FEC is a weak and failing agency, structured by Congress to be slow and ineffective, composed of commissioners whose appointments are tightly controlled by the Members of Congress and political parties they regulate, and has been impeded by a continual lack of resources.”
The Federal Election Administration Act of 2003 — sponsored by McCain and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) — would replace the six-member FEC with a three-member independent agency comprising a chairman and two additional members. All three would be appointed by the president.
The chairman — who would be given the power to manage and administer the agency by hiring the staff director and general counsel and setting the agency’s budget — would serve one 10-year term and the other two members would serve six-year terms and could not come from the same political party.
Enforcement matters, meanwhile, could be initiated by the three-member FEA, but cases would be resolved by an administrative law judge, who would have the authority to make findings of fact and reach conclusions of law.
McCain said the bill seeks to reduce the politicization that has become problematic at the agency by placing strict criteria on who may be appointed to the FEA.
“An individual may not be appointed to the new Federal Election Administration if he or she is serving or had served as a member of the FEC subject to a term limit or during the four previous years, was a candidate or elected officeholder, an officer, employee or attorney of a candidate, officeholder or political party, or employed in certain executive branch positions,” McCain explained.
Like the FEC, the FEA would carry on its responsibilities of administering campaign finance disclosure laws and the presidential public funding system as well as issuing regulations and advisory opinions. However, the new agency would also be granted the authority to conduct a limited number of random audits of campaign committees, which the FEC is currently unable to do.
Calling the FEC a “super legislature” that has failed to properly implement the new campaign finance law he helped author, Feingold blasted the agency for creating loopholes in the law that has “provided a road map for these guys on K Street.”
Groups such as Common Cause in favor of campaign finance reform praised the efforts.
“In banning soft money, Congress last year passed the most significant campaign finance reform in a generation, but it will mean little if the law is not effectively enforced,” said Common Cause General Counsel Don Simon.
“The FEC has long been a dysfunctional agency. It created the soft money loophole in the first place and has been more a part of the problem than the solution for effective campaign finance laws,” Simon continued in a written statement. “The new FEA is structured to succeed where the old FEC was structured to fail.”
Nevertheless, McCain acknowledged that this latest campaign finance effort will be an uphill battle.
“I would doubt we could do much this session of Congress,” McCain said, explaining that he and his supporters hope to get the process started and sound the call.
“A lot of people like the status quo,” he acknowledged.