Written byCamille Tuutti
A Washington-based watchdog group is shining the light on two federal agencies for their misconduct, nominating both as “Scoundrels of the Month” for April.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington chose the Federal Election Commission because of its “bad behavior” after calling out the agency for doing a poor job of enforcing laws meant to protect elections.
CREW’s comment was in response to a FEC solicitation for comments on whether the agency was effective in its role enforcing campaign finance law. As it turns out, that was not the case, according to CREW.
“Candidates, political committees and outside groups routinely flout the law, secure in the knowledge the FEC will not take action against them except in the most egregious and clear-cut cases,” CREW said.
The watchdog also said FEC deadlocked on 18.5 percent of its enforcement-related votes in 2012 – a spike compared to the average of 1 percent from 2003 to 2007. In addition, all five remaining commissioners’ terms have expired, the watchdog noted.
“The FEC has a lot of work to do before it can become the campaign finance watchdog the government and the American people require,” read the nomination.
The second Scoundrel agency nomination went to the Internal Revenue Service, whose actions – or rather, lack thereof – indicated the agency was “content to sit on the sidelines during the last two elections while tax-exempt groups … spent millions of dollars from anonymous donors to run vicious attack ads,” CREW said.
The watchdog sued the IRS in mid-February for disregarding a federal law banning nonprofits from engaging in political activity. On the heels of that lawsuit, CREW filed a rule-making petition calling on the agency to eliminate a loophole that allows groups to engage in political activity without revealing their donors’ identities.
Nonprofits or groups seeking 501(c)(4) status have long funneled anonymous money into elections. During the 2012 election cycle, nonprofits spent up to $250 million — including $131.3 million on congressional races, according to CREW.
Deciding which agency has been acting the worst is “a tough call,” Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, told FedScoop on May 3.
“But I do think the FEC is the most dysfunctional agency in Washington; the commissioners’ inability to act basically means they’re not doing much at all,” she said.
Scoundrel of the Month nominations typically include members of Congress and individuals rather than government entities, she said. (Case in point: Last month’s recipient of the dubious honor was Michele Bachmann.)
The overall purpose of the Scoundrel of the Month is to call attention to issues the public overlooks, “because that’s the only way we can change things for the better,” Sloan said.
Votes on the six Scoundrel nominations are accepted until May 6 on the CREW website. CREW will publish the results and announce the winner May 7.