Much has been said (demanded, even) recently regarding the subject of the Federal Election Commission and their enforcement of campaign finance laws. So-called campaign finance “reformers” demand that the FEC act swifter and more decisively, not to mention more severely, to punish transgressions from their interpretation of campaign finance laws. Laws, it might be noted, that they generally think too weak to begin with and regularly urge be tightened to squeeze any unregulated political speech out of the public square.
For our part, we at the Center for Competitive Politics note that there is often great ambiguity in campaign finance laws, and even those attempting to comply with limits and regulations on money in politics can find the requirements not only burdensome, but also confusing. Severe, swift and decisive action by the Federal Election Commission is sure to punish many who fall afoul of campaign finance laws not through deceit or even carelessness, but through confusion.
Yesterday in the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina featured a report by Justin Martin, a PhD candidate in journalism at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, on just how challenging it apparently can be to properly fill out campaign finance forms. From the story:
Combing through campaign finance data is sometimes like sorting through the Soviet archives; the more you dig, the more you realize how many things went wrong.
…By my calculations, 23 representatives, nearly one in five, filed campaign expenditure forms for the 2007-2008 election cycle that were off by more than $1,000.