FEC turns over confidential documents to House lawmakers

The Federal Election Commission has turned a trove of confidential documents over to House lawmakers following a call to increase agency transparency.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Administration Committee praised the FEC for finally releasing some of its internal documents following a Congressional directive.

“We are pleased the FEC is cooperating with the Committee in releasing its enforcement policies and procedures,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We thank the FEC for its cooperation and look forward to working with the agency as it continues to improve public access to its enforcement procedures.”

Last November, the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections conducted the first oversight hearing for the FEC since 2004. Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) ordered the agency to turn over some of its documents under threat of congressional subpoena.

Among the documents now received by the committee are the FEC’s Enforcement Manual, the Reports Analysis Division Review and Referral Procedures (RAD Manual) and the Audit Manual.

The documents have also been made publicly available on the FEC’s website.

Watchdog groups have long faulted the agency for failing to issue key enforcement rulings and say disclosure rules aren’t keeping pace with record-breaking campaign spending.

During the November hearing, commission officials conceded that greater transparency was needed, but said that producing the requested documents may prove problematic.

FEC Commissioner Donald McGahn II testified before the subcommittee that there is no “magic chart” or sentencing guideline used when doling out penalties. He said the agency depends on a “number of factors” when deciding how to punish election law violations.

“It’s not as easy as just handing you a book,” he told lawmakers.

Following the hearing, Harper issued a statement chastising the commission for remaining so opaque.

“Americans subject to federal investigations and penalties must know the standards and thresholds they will be held to,” he wrote. “The FEC’s unwillingness to make these standards public flies in the face of transparency and contradicts their sole purpose . . . The Commission’s resistance to transparency is unacceptable and must end.”

Following the document release Wednesday, McGahn told The Hill that it was just the latest step in ongoing efforts to increase agency transparency since he was appointed in 2008.

"Ultimately, what happened today was what I said ought to happen . . . After several months, here we are, right where I hoped it would end up,” he wrote in an email.

"Today’s document release is but one more step in an ongoing march toward reforming the operations of the agency,” McGahn added. “Hopefully, these documents will help those who have to deal with the agency better understand the internal workings of the FEC, in addition to all that has already been done over the past four years to address long-standing complaints about the agency."

The commission’s release of such documents this week is also an important step in educating the public about election laws, Republican committee members noted Wednesday.

“Until now, and contrary to the agency’s core mission, Americans engaging in the political process have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of election laws without adequate guidance or transparency to the enforcement process,” they wrote. “This release is an important step that will increase transparency in FEC operations and hopefully improve the understanding of, and adherence to, our complex election laws.”

Updated at 4:55 p.m.