ON-Lion Letter

"If you want to know why things seem so contentious at the Federal Election Commission" (FEC), begins a December website post by Bradley Prize recipient Bradley A. Smith, "we would call your attention to a recent Statement of Reasons by Commissioners Ann M. Ravel and Ellen L. Weintraub.

Smith is the Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nault Designated Professor of Law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) in Alexandria, Va.  He is a former FEC chairman.

Last month, Smith explains, the FEC "reached a conciliation agreement with Restore Our Future, a Super PAC that advocated the election of Mitt Romney in 2012.  Restore Our Future had, in 2012, republished substantial parts of a 2007 ad run by Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.  Commission regulations provide that the republication of campaign materials 'prepared by the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee, or an agent of the foregoing' is considered a contribution for purposes of contribution limitations and reporting responsibilities of the person making the expenditure.  If applied to Restore Our Future, then the organization vastly exceeded contribution limits and failed to report properly.

"Restore our Future basically argued that the Romney 2012 campaign is different from the Romney 2008 campaign -- thus Restore Our Future’s republication of a 5 year old ad in a different campaign would not violate the regulation against republishing a campaign's materials," he continues. 

"Eventually, the Committee, without admitting liability, agreed not to contest the Commission's finding that it had violated the law by republishing the ad, and to pay a $50,000 fine," Smith writes.  "This set off Commissioners Weintraub and Ravel, who complained that the penalty seemed minuscule in light of the fact that Restore Our Future may have spent over $4 million on the ads in question.  Fair enough.  What is discouraging, however, is the unproductive nature of their dissent from the settlement agreement.

"The Commissioners write, in a snarky footnote (number 7) that has too often become their style, 'The laws of reason have been suspended at the FEC, where corporations are people, commissioners are not, and now Mitt Romney gets to be two different people.'  What the heck are the Commissioners talking about?

"It is bad enough that the commissioners are using a Statement of Reasons ... to complain about Supreme Court and Commission decisions elsewhere," he laments.  "But what is so embarrassing is the sheer demagoguery of the footnote.

After then rebutting the Commissioners assertions in some detail, Smith concludes, "There is no value in simply misrepresenting the position of those with whom you disagree.  The FEC is supposed to be an expert agency.  Commissioners Weintraub and Ravel have spent much of the last year complaining that the Commission doesn't work.  Physicians, heal thyselves."

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports CCP.

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