The most important political story you haven’t heard about

December 18, 2013

Money is flooding into federal elections in the post-Citizens United era.  And yet the agency tasked with monitoring and regulating all of that activity is close to crippled due to staff cuts and partisan bickering.


Money, Money, Money.

That's according to Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity, which released a massive analysis on the Federal Election Commission and its problems earlier this week.  Among the problems with the agency Levinthal identified include:

  • The commission over the past year has reached a paralyzing all-time low in its ability to reach consensus, stalling action on dozens of rulemaking, audit and enforcement matters, some of which are years old.

  • Despite an explosion in political spending hastened by key Supreme Court decisions, the agency’s funding has remained flat for five years and staffing levels have fallen to a 15-year low.

  • Analysts charged with scouring disclosure reports to ensure candidates and political committees are complying with laws have a nearly quarter-million-page backlog.

Average people -- heck, average political junkies -- have either never heard of the FEC, don't really know what it does or both. But, remember this is the rule-making and rule-enforcing entity for all federal money in politics. Also remember that we live in an age in which public financing of presidential elections is a thing of the past -- 2012 is the first election since Watergate where neither major party nominee accepted public funds for the general election  -- and, thanks to super PACs, wealthy individuals have more power than ever. The price tag for the 2012 election topped $6 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and the trend line suggests that there is nowhere to go but up.


Image courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.

More money flowing into politics + understaffed agency riven by partisan divides = recipe for chaos. Or, as Levinthal puts it: "As the nation heads into what will undoubtedly be the most expensive midterm election in history and a 2016 presidential election that, in no small way, has already begun, the FEC is rotting from the inside out."

Read his whole piece. It's an important one.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · December 18, 2013