- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2012

The Federal Election Commission wasn’t always so dysfunctional.

Despite a setup that fills its six commissioners’ posts with three Republicans and three Democrats, it used to have little trouble conducting oversight and sanctioning dirty campaigns without ending up with the tie votes that have recently hamstrung the agency, leading to an anything-goes atmosphere for candidates and outside groups.

In the four years ending in 2007, the FEC held 2,600 votes on enforcement actions and deadlocked on 1 percent of them. But in the four years since that time, the agency has managed to bring only 760 suspected cases of wrongdoing to votes and has deadlocked on more than 13 percent, according to data compiled and provided to The Washington Times by Public Citizen, which advocates for robust enforcement of campaign finance laws.

When the commission is deadlocked, the result is the same as a “no” vote: No action is taken and any illegal conduct goes unpunished.

“They are in fact abandoning the mission of the agency,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.

The commission hasn’t fared any better on voting to conduct audits, the detailed reviews of campaigns’ spending normally undertaken when there is reason to think something could be seriously amiss.

In 2011, the FEC voted on conducting 20 audits and deadlocked on seven. In 2007, it voted on 40 and deadlocked on one. In 2005, it voted on 61 and deadlocked on one.

No ‘fresh blood’

The dramatic reduction in enforcement and regulation by an agency tasked with doing just that, during an election year in which more groups have spent more than ever before, baffles former top officials.

“Whether this commission is salvageable is an open question,” said Lawrence M. Noble, a former general counsel of the FEC who now heads Americans for Campaign Reform.

What the commission needs is fresh blood, it would seem — but that is ultimately up to President Obama, who selects the commissioners.

Although the panel has no official vacancies, all but one of the commissioners are serving past the planned ends of their terms, and Mr. Obama has not tried to fill most of the available slots. Four of these five members’ terms expired during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

The White House did not explain the delay.

“We are not going to publicly speculate on future personnel decisions, but the president intends to nominate well-qualified candidates, and we will continue to support strong enforcement of our campaign finance laws,” spokesman Eric Schultz said in an email.

Mr. Schultz gave the same response, word for word, to Bloomberg News service when asked about the issue in April.

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