GOP lawmaker chides FEC for two-year delay in creating enforcement manual

The House Administration committee’s top Republican last week scolded the Federal Election Commission for failing to approve an enforcement manual two years after lawmakers asked the panel to complete the task.

“When a federal agency keeps its enforcement policies and procedures secret or makes them difficult to understand, it increases the opportunity for abuse by its employees — abuse that has very real consequences for the Americans subject to its power,” Committee Chairman Candice Miller (Mich.) said in a statement on Friday.

In a letter to Miller on Thursday, FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about dealing with enforcement guidelines while the Senate is considering two new nominees for the commission.

“In my view, it would be highly inappropriate for the commission to take precipitous action on a matter of this importance without giving our new colleagues the opportunity to participate,” Weintraub said. “I am also concerned about taking such an action when the commission’s foundational bipartisan structure is out of balance, but soon to be corrected.”

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
(Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The normally six-seat panel is down to five members, all of whom are serving expired terms. Last month, President Obama named his first nominees for the FEC in four years, tapping Democratic elections watchdog Ann Ravel and Republican attorney Lee Goodman, who now await Senate approval.

Weintraub said the commission had to postpone planned discussions about the manual in recent months because of late edits proposed on the eve of its last few meetings. She also said she “cannot unilaterally force the commission to actually take the matter up,” despite her authority to place the issue on the panel’s agenda.

Miller said in her statement that the inaction is “unacceptable and the excuses must come to an end.”

Miller also suggested that the FEC’s failure to produce the manual exacerbates a growing problem with lack of faith in government. She said the issue is especially troubling in light of the recent IRS targeting controversy, which involved singling out groups for extra scrutiny based on their political beliefs.

“Complying with campaign finance law is complicated at best, and inconsistent or arbitrary enforcement procedures only makes it worse and again diminishes Americans’ faith in government,” Miller said.

The chairman’s comments fall in line with those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has argued that the Obama administration has used the IRS and FEC to curb the activities of political opponents.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · July 26, 2013