Dysfunction and Belief at the FEC

Former FEC GC Larry Noble has offered his take on the public dispute between FEC Vice Chair Ann Ravel and the FEC’s Republican commissioners.  Noble ultimately calls for “fundamental changes” at the FEC “including the appointment of commissioners who believe in the law and its enforcement.”

This question of “belief in the law” reminds me of the fundamentalist minister who was asked if he believed in total immersion baptism.  “Believe it in?” he thundered in response, “why, I’ve seen it done!”

There is no question about whether Republican FEC Commissioners believe in the law.  The law sits in ready sight in a bound book on their desks.

So, the “belief” question appears to have something to do with enforcement philosophies.  Noble’s complaint is akin to law and order conservatives bemoaning the appointment of liberal judges who don’t “believe” in lengthy and inflexible prison terms.  Some reformers apparently believe they have a special claim on enforcement policy at the FEC, and that those who believe election law should be enforced more flexibly, more leniently, or with stricter adherence to constitutional limits should be disqualified from service as FEC Commissioners.

Noble is correct that assessing enforcement philosophies of Federal officials is the responsibility of the President and the Senate within the scope of their appointment and advice and consent powers.   President Reagan appointed free market economist Jim Miller to head the Federal Trade Commission, working a sea change in anti-trust enforcement.  Liberals thought this was bad policy, but few argued that Miller’s leadership at the FTC was dysfunctional.

Republican commissioners were nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate just like Democratic Commissioners.  Commissioners of both parties have sincerely and firmly held views about proper enforcement of the law and related administrative procedures.

When one side argues that the other side isn’t just wrong, but that their views and actions aren’t even legitimate (dysfunction or failing to enforce the law), that hardly represents the “effort to reach some compromise” that Noble says is needed.

Dave Mason is a former Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission