The most senior member of the Federal Election Commission criticized the agency at a meeting on Thursday, saying it has become “less aggressive” in enforcing campaign finance laws, and pointed to statistics that show big drops in the average size of fines levied against campaigns, parties and political action committees.
“Back in ‘06 and ‘07, they said we were ‘feckless’ and ‘toothless,’” Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said, according to Roll Call. “I am not sure what the adjective would be today.”
Weintraub’s comments came moments before the commission voted 4-2 to require FEC officials hand over any evidence that could clear up possible violations, a rule Weintraub said would hurt the agency’s “ability to build cases and to go after the most culpable parties.”
“The notion that we are a fierce investigative agency that people are quaking in their boots about is probably not the case,” she also said. “If it ever was the case, it certainly is not today.”
As evidence, Weintraub brought up statistics she heard at a recent staff briefing. From Roll Call:
From fiscal 2006 to 2010, the average fine levied against campaigns, parties and political action committees for violating campaign finance law dropped from $180,000 to $42,000, Weintraub said. Similarly, the number of conciliation agreements, deals on penalties hammered out between the FEC and those under investigation, fell from 91 in fiscal 2007 to 29 in fiscal 2010, which Weintraub called a “pretty sharp drop.”
After the meeting, Republican Commissioner Donald McGahn argued against Weintraub’s conclusions.
“Everyone can give speeches,” McGahn said. “But what she never mentioned was that law has changed considerably.
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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com