You are hereMother Jones: Will Obama Oust the FEC's Right-Wing Ringleader?

Mother Jones: Will Obama Oust the FEC's Right-Wing Ringleader?


The president decries the unraveling of the nation's campaign-finance laws, but he's done zero to reform the agency charged with enforcing what's left of them.

February 9, 2011- When the Supreme Court handed down its controversial Citizens United decision, President Barack Obama ripped the high court's ruling for giving "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics." But while denouncing the destruction of the nation's campaign finance laws, Obama has done nothing to bolster the dysfunctional agency responsible for enforcing what remains of them.

Since mid-2008, the Federal Election Commission has epitomized political gridlock. Crackdowns by the bipartisan FEC have plummeted. Now, the advocacy group Public Citizen is plotting a "full court press," demanding that President Obama begin to fix the FEC by ditching its Republican ringleader, Donald McGahn.

Public Citizen's pressure comes at a pivotal moment for the agency. In April, five of the commission's six members will be working as holdovers up for replacement, their official six-year terms expired. Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, says his organization will push for Obama to replace those holdovers with picks of his own. "President Obama is not putting any effort into fixing the FEC," Holman says.

Obama should start, Holman says, by dumping McGahn, the shaggy-haired, guitar-playing commissioner whose official term expired nearly two years ago. (McGahn did not respond to a request for comment.) McGahn's tenure at the FEC is Exhibit A for what happens when ideology supplants the letter of the law, critics say. A George W. Bush nominee, McGahn was named a commissioner in July 2008 (he was asked to fill a partially completed term). Since then, the FEC has been gripped with paralysis. According to Holman, deadlocked enforcement votes—meaning no action was taken—averaged 1 percent between 2003 and 2008; they spiked to 16 percent in 2009 and 11 percent in 2010. McGahn and the other GOP commissioners "see no obstacle to placing their own ideology ahead of what the federal law reads," Holman says.

McGahn's opposition to campaign finance regulations isn't surprising, given his background. The New Jersey native previously fought the FEC as counsel for former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who resigned his seat months after a Texas grand jury indicted him for conspiring to funnel illegal campaign contributions into state political races. (In January, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison.) McGahn also fought landmark political reforms such as the McCain-Feingold Act, which banned unregulated "soft money" contributions (funds given to a political party as a whole) by national party committees, as well as issue advertisements during campaigns, and was upended by the Citizens United decision.

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