by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The federal agency formed to referee the hard-nosed, red team-blue team battle of national politics is the Federal Election Commission. Like refs in sports, nearly everyone thinks they stink at their job.
But for all the agency’s faults, it does have one crucial strength: It is bipartisan. The commission has six commissioners, with no more than three from any one political party. Any action at the commission requires four votes, so whenever the FEC opens an investigation or levies a fine against a campaign, the decision must be supported by at least one Democrat and one Republican.
Does this mean the FEC acts less often than a partisan agency would? Almost certainly. Our campaign finance laws have more than 375,000 words — reasonable people will have reasonably different interpretations of the rules. Commissioners of differing views and backgrounds may divide sharply over gray areas of the law. …
… Unfortunately, the first bill proposed in the 2019 Congress will destroy the FEC’s bipartisanship.
Deep in H.R. 1 (page 456 of 570), the Democrats’ top bill of the session, is a plan to change the FEC from its current six-member structure to a five-member agency. Two Democrats and two Republicans would be joined by a new “independent” commissioner, meaning the tie-breaking vote on any regulation would always effectively be cast by whichever president appoints the “independent.”
This is the political equivalent of “fixing” sports refereeing by allowing the home team to hire an extra ref to make the final decision on every call.