GUESS WHAT the Federal Elections Commission, charged by Gramm-Rudman with paring its $12 million budget 4 percent, decided to cut? The computerized disclosure program. The FEC has two major functions: to disclose who gives and receives campaign money, and to enforce the campaign finance laws. Yet the first thing cut is disclosure -- the first and most important of its functions.
In contrast, the agency's election law clearinghouse project -- a useful but not unique operation -- will continue full blast, minus a couple of grants. And there will be no layoffs or RIFs, or even staff cuts through attrition (except for the key punchers who put the information on computers).
The FEC's decision to cut muscle comes as the agency recognized that it's not enough just to have a bunch of microfilm that folks can read and make notes from. It has worked hard to prepare candidates' filings quickly in computerized form, so that reporters, politicians and others can go in and find out who's giving what to whom. Now, under the budget cuts, the FEC is going to deep-six the computerized records for 1976-82. It will no longer use high-speed computer printers to churn out responses to requests overnight. It will not provide computerized lists of individual contributors to congressional candidates, or lists of loans and transfers from PACs. It will not utilize its recently developed capacity to track "bundled" contributions -- individual contributions presented all in a bunch by a PAC. You will still be able to look these things up on microfilm and, with luck, you may even be able to get useful information before the election. But don't count heavily on it.
Even some of the computerized information the commission will still provide -- direct PAC contributions to candidates, independent expenditures, communications expenses -- may be cut out in June if the pared-down computer shop can't handle it. The FEC was created to disclose and to enforce. A commission that doesn't make usefully available the basic information about campaign money that citizens need is not doing its job. The FEC should reconsider and put first things -- full, effective disclosure -- first.