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KAI RYSSDAL: As the falling ball lights Times Square tonight, the lights will effectively be going out at the Federal Election Commission. The FEC is going to start the New Year with only two commissioners. There are six of them, usually. Official votes need a quorum of at least four. Staffers are still tracking campaign finances as usual. But Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports only commissioners can stop candidates from bending the rules.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Who turned out the lights at the FEC? Point the finger at Congress and the White House. President Bush sent his FEC nominees to the Senate for approval. Congress isn't thrilled with his choices. The White House won't budge. The result?

MASSIE RITSCH: It could be very much a Wild West election.

What will our favorite campaign cowhands get up to? Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics says politicians in legal trouble may use campaign cash in creative ways.

RITSCH: Given the behavior of some of these politicians and how they use their campaign money, I wouldn't be surprised if they went ahead and just started paying their lawyers with their contributors' money anyway.

And can a company flying a blimp plastered with Ron Paul's name accept unlimited contributions? For Steve Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, the big unanswered question is...

STEVE WEISSMAN: Who is a lobbyist? Who has to report if they're going around raising money for candidates?

Weissman says now candidates might not get an answer until after the presidential election when it doesn't matter. But attorney Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center says even the fully staffed FEC is never speedy.

PAUL RYAN: Instead, it takes the commission many months -- usually several years -- before they announce anything having to do with an investigation of an alleged wrongdoing.

Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute says both parties like their creative accounting, so neither is anxious to speed up FEC investigations. And they're not in a big hurry to get new commissioners in place, either.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.