March 01, 2016

On Super Tuesday, Udall Introduces Legislation to Abolish the Federal Election Commission, Create a New Vigilant Watchdog to Enforce Campaign Finance Laws

Replacing the dysfunctional FEC is a crucial step toward fixing our broken political system

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced legislation to abolish the broken Federal Election Commission (FEC) and replace it with a new agency empowered to crack down on campaign finance violations. The new Federal Election Administration would be established to avoid the partisan gridlock that currently prevents the FEC from doing its job and enforcing our election laws. Udall is a champion for fair elections that are free of unlimited and undisclosed special interest money, and is the lead sponsor of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, as well as other flawed campaign finance decisions.

Many commonsense campaign finance laws have been struck down by the Supreme Court, and the few rules that remain are not being enforced. The lack of FEC action has compounded the disastrous impact of Citizens United, and subsequent lower court decisions like SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which created Super PACs. Without FEC enforcement, Super PACs and campaigns are now pushing the envelope on all remaining campaign finance rules with near impunity. Former FEC Chairwoman and current Commissioner Ann M. Ravel has spoken strongly about the commission's inability to enforce the law.

Udall's Federal Election Administration Act would abolish the FEC and create a new agency composed of five members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. A chair would lead the agency, and the remaining members would equally represent both political parties. The bill is modeled after a bipartisan proposal previously introduced by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

"Congress created the Federal Election Commission to fight political corruption after Watergate. But today, partisan gridlock leaves the agency powerless to enforce the few campaign finance laws remaining on the books," Udall said. "It's Super Tuesday, the 2016 campaigns are well underway, and we're seeing record spending, including millions of dollars in undisclosed dark money. Without a strong watchdog looking over their shoulders, Super PACs and billionaire donors have free rein to push the limits. It's clear that the FEC has outlived its usefulness. We need a new agency empowered to ensure our elections are fair and democratic."

Several leading election reform groups support Udall's bill, including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Issue One, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Rootstrikers and U.S. PIRG.

"The Federal Election Commission is a failed, dysfunctional agency that does not enforce or properly interpret the nation's campaign finance laws," the groups wrote in a letter supporting the bill. "As a result, campaigns, political operatives, parties and independent spenders know they can operate with impunity and without consequences for campaign finance violations. This has created the modern political equivalent of the Wild West without a sheriff. It also means that any new campaign finance laws that are enacted will face the same problem of being undermined by the FEC's failure to enforce the laws as the current laws."

A summary of the Federal Election Administration Act can be found here. A side-by-side comparison of the FEC to the proposed new watchdog agency is available here.