While the campaign finance "reform community" complains that the Federal Election Commission is incapable of enforcing the law and must be replaced by a campaign finance Czar, presumably drawn from the ranks of their community, the FEC is quietly assessing the largest fines in the Agency’s history. As last week’s little noticed FEC release shows, the Agency is continuing a trend – which began in 2000 – of increasingly high penalties.
It used to be commonly said, in the 1990s, that when dealing with the FEC, "the punishment is the process." During my tenure at the FEC I worked hard – with support from my colleagues, including then Chair Ellen Weintraub, to change that – over the protestations of the same groups that now demand a new, more "vigorous" prosecuting agency. I believed strongly that the process should be fair, and, when violations occured, the punishments should be meaningful. It is good that the current Commission appears to share that philosophy. But that won’t stop some groups from falsely criticizing the Commission as a "lapdog."