Political observers say Republican and Democratic candidates and their super PACs have found new ways of bending the rules. And they’re not getting in trouble. Why? The federal agency charged with enforcing campaign finance rules is gridlocked.
“It really has become the wild west of politics where the money is flowing, super PACs are playing roles that they’ve never played before,” said Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, which pushes for campaign finance reform.
Gates said campaigns and outside groups like super PACs have blurred the line that’s supposed to separate them. He said super PACs foot the bill for TV ads, and do other things that used to be the responsibility of campaigns.
“Voter ID, get out the vote, purchasing ads, building state organizations,” he said.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is supposed to enforce campaign finance rules. It’s headed by Ann Ravel, who became chairwoman last December, full of hope. But by February, she’d concluded that she couldn’t break the gridlock at the FEC. It’s made up of three Republicans and three Democrats. They can’t agree on much of anything. So, Ravel maintains, campaign finance laws aren’t enforced.
“I think people have to be aware of what the situation is and try to get some kind of change,” she said.
Paul S. Ryan is trying to change things. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, said he’s disappointed with not only the FEC, but also the IRS, which he said isn’t properly enforcing the tax laws that cover outside groups like super PACs.
The IRS wouldn’t comment.
Ryan said he’s filing complaints and lawsuits in a mad scramble.
“To be honest, there are so many violations going on out there we can’t keep up with them,” he said. “We don’t have the staff to draft all these complaints.”
Ryan said he’ll hire more staff, trying to fill the void left by federal regulators who say their hands are tied.
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