Latest FEC Reform Proposal Would Threaten Free Speech

RNLA Advisory Council member Dan Backer wrote about the serious problems with the latest proposal to "reform" the FEC:

The legislation would overhaul the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by lowering the number of FEC commissioners from six to five, supposedly putting an end to “gridlock.” The bill would also “reduce partisanship” by limiting commissioners to serving one term and granting the president power to nominate an FEC “chair” to serve for 10 years. This chair would have the authority to act independently of other commissioners, centralizing power in a single unelected political appointee.  

“Reducing partisanship” is the wrong priority. As a nation, we don’t agree on many issues and we shouldn’t gloss over—or worse, use government to suppress—our disagreements. What’s wrong with different people who lead different lives in different parts of the country having different ideas? Only by airing these debates and disagreements can we reach consensus or compromise—or not, and that’s fine too. 

Donnelly’s legislation will openly weaponize the FEC, as it allows one side of the aisle to impose its will when there is legitimate disagreement over complex legal matters. . . . For decades, the independent, six-member FEC has remained bipartisan by design, precisely because it has the power to restrict speech about politics—the very heart of our freedoms of speech and association.  

Under the proposed Donnelly-Renacci legislation, Democrats and Republicans would receive two commissioners each, allowing the president to pick the tiebreaker for the next decade. Consolidating partisan control for 10 years at a time does not sound like an improvement.

While the current structure of the FEC is not perfect, it does provide some protection for political speech by requiring a minimum bipartisan consensus to take any action.  Given the sensitive and important political speech rights regulated by the FEC, any efforts to "reform" it by placing more power in the hands of one party or a few commissioners could seriously endanger First Amendment rights.