Federal Election Commission

  • March 1, 2017

    by Katie O’Connor

    In an era of record political polarization, there are still a handful of issues on which Americans seem to agree. One such issue is the need to implement serious campaign finance reform and drastically reduce the amount of money in politics. According to a 2015 New York Times/CBS News poll, 84 percent of respondents thought that money has too much influence in American political campaigns. 39 percent of respondents said the system for funding political campaigns needs fundamental changes, and another 46 percent said the system needs to be completely rebuilt. Over three-quarters of respondents were in favor of limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

    Despite a near consensus on the need for change, little has been done to slow the flood of money into politics in recent years. In fact, it has only hastened, with some help from the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential election is estimated to have cost $6.9 billion, up from $4.3 billion in 2000. Part of the blame for the impasse lies with Congress, which has been growing increasingly gridlocked for decades. But Congressional deadlock is not a total bar to campaign finance reform.

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the agency whose mission is to enforce and administer campaign finance laws. Specifically, the FEC enforces laws which seek to “limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections; regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.” Despite its bipartisan and overwhelmingly popular mission and its distance from a dysfunctional Congress, the FEC is not immune to gridlock. In fact, it has come to be referred to, in some circles, as the Failure to Enforce Commission.

  • June 23, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Frank Bruni argues in The New York Times that the fight for marriage equality was not an overnight victory, but one spanning decades.

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy considers how the failure of the Federal Election Commission to regulate money in politics is threatening the rule of law.

    Brianne Gorod of Slate considers the pending Supreme Court decisions outside of same-sex marriage and King v. Burwell.

    At Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer explains how the Chief Justice could save the Affordable Care Act in order to protect big business.

    In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf takes a look at a victory for privacy rights at the Supreme Court.

    The Balitmore police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray plead not guilty, reports Tom Liddy of ABC News.

  • August 13, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director and Associate Legal Counsel at The Campaign Legal Center.

    In the months since the landmark decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, authorizing corporations to make unlimited independent political expenditures in candidate elections, groups including the Republican-leaning Club for Growth and the Democratic-leaning Commonsense Ten have asked the FEC to go well beyond the Court's decision. They have asked the FEC, through Advisory Opinion Requests (AORs), to extend Citizens United to further deregulate corporate money in politics by ignoring statutes and regulations restricting how corporate political committees (PACs) raise money and limiting contributions from corporations to PACs - statutes and regulations not yet viewed or evaluated by any court.

    These recent Club for Growth and Commonsense Ten AORs raise important questions of both substance and process. When and how is it appropriate for an administrative agency to decide not to enforce statutes and regulations that have not been invalidated by any court?

    Prior to the Citizens United decision, corporations like Goldman Sachs were prohibited by federal laws from (1) making political expenditures using their general treasury funds and (2) making political contributions to federal candidates and PACs. The Citizens United Court ruled that corporations like Goldman Sachs have a constitutional right to make unlimited independent expenditures, but the corporate contribution ban was not challenged, considered or invalidated in Citizens United.

    The Supreme Court in Citizens United concluded that, unlike "direct contributions," which may give rise to corruption, "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," and held that the federal law prohibiting a corporation from making independent political expenditures using general treasury funds violates the corporation's right to free speech under the First Amendment.

    A couple of months after the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, the en banc D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided SpeechNow.org v. FEC. The court struck down, on First Amendment grounds, the federal $5,000 limit on contributions from individuals to SpeechNow.org, which promised to limit its political activity to making independent expenditures (i.e., no contributions to candidates). In reaching its conclusion, the D.C. Circuit extended the reasoning of Citizens United from expenditures to contributions. The D.C. Circuit reasoned: "In light of the Court's holding as a matter of law that independent expenditures do not corrupt or create the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, contributions to groups that make only independent expenditures also cannot corrupt or create the appearance of corruption."

    Neither Citizens United nor SpeechNow challenged the constitutionality of the federal ban on corporate contributions to candidates and political committees - a ban that has been on the books since 1907. Consequently, neither the Supreme Court in Citizens United nor the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow considered the constitutionality of the long-standing ban on corporate contributions.

    This fact, however, did not stop Club for Growth and Commonsense Ten from approaching the FEC to request further deregulation of corporate money in federal elections.