FEC’s Republicans Choose Not To Enforce Law

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For Republicans opposed to campaign finance regulations, it appears that enforcing the law is just so last year.

Bloomberg reports that the Federal Election Commission’s three GOP members all voted against fining the Chamber of Commerce for illegally spending money in 2004 on attacks against John Edwards, that year’s Democratic vice-presidential nominee. The 3-3 final vote tally meant the commission took the rare step of rejecting an FEC counsel recommendation to impose the fine.

The November Fund, a 527 group run by the Chamber, had been found to have broken campaign spending laws by using $3 million it received from the chamber to attack Edwards over his trial lawyer background. Bloomberg notes that 11 other 527s were accused of violating campaign spending laws, and all but the Chamber paid a fine.

Bloomberg explains how it happened:

The commission initially agreed in March 2005 that the November Fund illegally accepted contributions in excess of the $5,000 limit for political action committees and that the chamber made illegal corporate contributions. In November 2007, the commission authorized its counsel to negotiate a settlement, including an agreed-upon fine.

Four new members joined the commission the following year, and in October 2008 the three Republicans balked at approving the final agreement.

In a “statement of reasons” released after the vote, two of the commission’s Democratic members wrote that they were “gravely concerned”, and called the vote a “dramatic departure” from “the commission’s prior enforcement efforts and the law itself.”

Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which generally supports campaign finance regulations, told TPMmuckraker in an interview that the decision should not be interpreted by 527 groups as a license to spend money freely in future elections. He pointed out that the commission will likely undergo some turnover in 2009, with the probability that a future commission could be more willing to enforce campaign finance laws.

“I’m not ready to throw in the towel and say hundreds of millions of dollars will be back in 2012,” said Ryan.

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