September 19th, 2012
08:45 PM ET

Super PAC Economy: "Toothless watchdogs asleep at the switch," says Avlon

Despite President Barack Obama's lead in new polls, he has been outspent pro-Romney Super PACs. John Avlon has been looking at the Super PAC economy all week and how the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are powerless to stop the dark money abuse.

OutFront tonight: CNN Contributor John Avlon is writing a series of reports on the influx of cash into this year's campaigns for the Daily Beast in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics.

John Avlon is also a CNN contributor and member of the OutFront political strike team.


Our Toothless Campaign Finance Watchdogs

The gold rush excesses of the super-PAC economy are encouraged by a Wild West mentality, where all boundaries are pushed in the absence of strong laws. The mechanisms for enforcing the rules are toothless and totally unsuited for the task at hand.

The Federal Election Commission would seem to be the obvious agency to regulate the system, but experts say the odds that it will hand down harsh penalties for, say, illegal coordination between a super PAC and a campaign are extremely low. In recent years, the FEC—which is run by six commissioners, three Republicans and three Democrats—has been routinely deadlocked with party-line votes.

“There was always a partisan split on the agency. But there used to be more of an institutional concern that we have a law here to enforce,” says Larry Noble, who served as general counsel to the FEC for 13 years. “What happened in the 2000s is that commissioners were appointed who were very upfront about the fact that they didn’t believe in the law—and they felt the election laws were unconstitutional in many respects… Over the past ten years or so, you’ve had a great increase in three/three splits due to the fact that they won’t compromise. And so you have a less aggressive commission.”

If the FEC isn’t going to aggressively regulate this world, who will?


Filed under: 2012 Election • Campaign Finance • Politics • Super PAC Economy
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