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FEC fines soaring

Quick follow up from today's earlier post: Tom DeLay's not the only politician who runs afoul of political fundraising rules.

Minutes after filing the item on DeLay's committee closing up shop, the Federal Election Commission issued a statement declaring it had roped in more than $1.1 million in civil fines for the first quarter of 2007 - the most money ever collected in the first three months of a calendar year. [Link 1]

Many watchdog groups have accused the FEC of being a sleeping giant, unwilling to thoroughly examine the political finances of candidates for the House and Senate or even president. It's made up of six commissioners, evenly divided among the two parties, who hand pick the commissioners. So party-line votes ensure gridlock, inaction on items.

However, many fund raisers and political lawyers took note of the large fines and have begun privately voicing concerns about an overzealous agency. The commission is proud of its work, saying its focus now is on large infractions and big penalties, not smaller matters.

"We're trying to focus on the more important cases, and sometimes those generate big fines," Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner, told Roll Call's Matthew Murray last December. "It's not 'your father's Oldsmobile' around here."

Today, FEC Chairman Robert Lenhard issued a similar call to arms: "The Commission's results so far in 2007 build upon a proven track record and commitment to rigorous enforcement. And while the Commission has an abiding commitment to encouraging voluntary compliance, serious violations will result in significant civil penalties."

In 2006, the FEC issued its largest fine ever, $3.8 million to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., also known as Freddie Mac, for its longstanding use of corporate resources to raise and contribute money to federal candidates. [As is the case of Texas law, regarding allegations against DeLay, corporate monies cannot be used directly to elect or defeat candidates for federal office.]

For all of last year, roughly $6 million in fines were collected by the FEC, twice as much as ever before. And the FEC is off to a fast start in 2007 with a $750,000 fine handed down to the Progress for America Voter Fund, a non-profit that filed under Section 527 of the tax code but was found to have produced some ads attacking Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign which should have been subjected to FEC regulations. (That would have meant the group would have had to finance those ads with smaller donations, limited to $5,000 per person, rather than the unlimited sums it used as a 527 group.)

Late last year, liberal 527 groups were hit with roughly $600,000 in fines for similar infractions, according to Murray's report (subscription required).

By Paul Kane  |  May 1, 2007; 4:55 PM ET
 
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Comments

Big money interests are more prevalent in Republican circles. I hope this reigns in some equality to the electoral process and brings about the badly needed shift to the left.

Posted by: The Red | May 2, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I would encourage the FEC to trace the mailbox numbers of personnel associated with the White House Counsel's politicial, legal, and pubulic affairs offices -- the common link described in the DOJ e-mails, and evidence of coordination.

It appears the White House counsel, legal affairs, political offices, and public affairs personnel shared common PO Boxes in Virginia. Unclear how the firms, entities, and individuals associated with these PO Boxes were directly or indirectly related to efforts to intimidate voters and opposition to the Bush Administration policies.

Curiously, attorneys are allowed to issue supboenas to identify personnel making public comments in the internet, but this is not supervisied by a court and can be done within 7 days by issuing a subpoean directly to an ISP.

As far as the FEC goes: The scenario is this -- perhaps RNC personnel, in an effort to circumvent the FED rules on funding, did two things: Used information captured by NSA to target people; then used this official information to issue supboenas; then self-issued NSL letters to silence discussion not of a bonafide national secuity issue, but an effort to retalatie and intimidate people aware of the FEC violations or misconduct.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

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