The referees who oversee federal elections are continuing to highlight how powerless they think they’ve become.
Approaching a presidential campaign cycle likely to feature more money than ever before, two Democrats on the Federal Election Commission on Monday filed a petition asking the agency they serve to sharpen its teeth and better regulate the anonymous cash flooding elections.
The deadlocked commission, split between three Democrats and three Republicans, has shown little ability to enforce federal election law. It’s a battle some on the board are now taking public, with the chair of the FEC, Ann Ravel, recently telling the New York Times that her own agency was “worse than dysfunctional.”
Now, Ravel and another Democratic commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, are petitioning for more disclosure of so-called “dark money” that is funneled through nonprofit groups that can shield their contributors’ identities. In the petition, first reported by USA Today, Ravel and Weintraub call for all outside independent spending to be disclosed.
“People will say: ‘You’re the chair of the commission. You should work from within.’ I tried,” Ravel told CNN Monday. “We needed to take more creative avenues to try and get public disclosure.”
Petitions are almost always filed by outsiders hoping to change policy. The FEC chief now counts herself as one of those outsiders.
While a petition – even one from the chair of the body – won’t change the FEC’s power, Ravel explained her hope is to draw attention to its impotence. Some campaign-reform groups have essentially given up on the FEC’s ability to police elections, turning instead recently to the Department of Justice to more effectively punish violators.
The petition also calls for the FEC to clarify that no foreign money be allowed in U.S. elections, to forbid candidates from appearing at super PAC events and those super PACs from acting as “the alter ego of a candidate.”
The commission’s three Republican members said in a joint statement to CNN the body should instead focus on a more bipartisan agenda.
Those last two points may be a direct reaction to the presidential ambitions of Jeb Bush, who has raised money at dozens of events for his super PAC, which some argue has effectively served as an “alter ego,” shadow campaign. The former Florida governor is expected to shed his coyness on June 15, when he officially plans to enter the presidential race.