Partisanship stalemates FEC, says report

Partisanship at the Federal Election Commission has hamstrung the agency, as deadlocked investigations have skyrocketed since 2008, according to a new report.

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Before 2008, the FEC only deadlocked on 1 percent of its votes to trigger punishments for allegations of election law violations, according to the report released Wednesday by the Public Citizen Foundation.

Since then, the agency has hit a stalemate on 15 percent. The FEC is made up of three Democratic and three Republican commissioners, and action can only be triggered with a majority vote, which means at least one commissioner must cross party lines before the agency can authorize punishment.

“The nation is entering what will be the most expensive election in history with no cop on the beat,” Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said in a statement.

“The 2016 election is going to be a lawless Wild West.”

The number of cases that even reach a vote has also plummeted from an average of 727 per year between 2003 and2007 to 178 per year from 2008 through the available data from 2014. The agency is also pursuing fewer proposed audits, and reaching significantly more deadlocks on proposed rules and advisory opinions on average over the past few years. But most recent data from 2014 also show a decline in split votes on advisory opinions, and the number of audit votes is at a six-year high.

FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, a Democrat, recently told The New York Times that the FEC is “worse than dysfunctional” and that the “likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim.”

FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman, a Republican, criticized the assertion that fellow GOP commissioners are to blame in a Politico op-ed earlier this month. He added that split votes mean the accusations didn't spur a bipartisan belief in pursuing action.

"No one team gets to choose all the umpires or unilaterally set the rules of the game," he wrote.

"That a percentage of votes break 3-3 is not a flaw of the agency but rather one of its most prudential features."

A number of Supreme Court decisions have weakened federal election laws over the past few years, lifting the restrictions on contributions to super-PACs as well as the aggregate amount that someone can donate each cycle.

That has led to the outsized role of super-PACs, which many potential candidates are tacitly relying on ahead of officially launching their bids for the White House.

In March, the Campaign Legal Center accused four potential presidential candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.); Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.); former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) with violating election law that limits the activities of potential candidates “testing the waters” ahead of a decision on whether to launch a bid.

— This report was updated at 7:44 a.m.