Campaign Finance Sponsors Want FEC Abolished

The lead sponsors of the nation's new campaign finance law (search) have a new goal: abolishing the federal agency responsible for enforcing it.

Lawmakers including Sens. John McCain (search) and Russell Feingold (search) proposed legislation Thursday that would replace the Federal Election Commission (search) with a new agency.

They and campaign finance watchdog groups have long argued the FEC -- headed by three Democratic and thould be replaced by a federal election administration, comprised of three members -- a chairman and two members -- to eliminate the possibility of deadlocked votes. The president would appoint the three, with the Senate's consent; the two members would be a Republican and a Democrat.

Suspected violations of campaign finance laws would be considered by administrative law judges.

"It is sad when the agency charged with enforcing the election laws is jokingly referred to as the 'failure to enforce commission,"' Feingold, D-Wis., said in a statement, adding that the public wants the new campaign finance law enforced.

"This new agency will provide a new and better structure for achieving that goal."

The FEC, created by Congress more than a quarter-century ago as one of several post-Watergate reforms, enforces the nation's campaign finance laws, including limits on campaign contributions.

McCain, R-Ariz.; Feingold; Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.; and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., -- the four lead sponsors of the law toughening campaign finance restrictions -- were angered last summer by new FEC rules they contended created loopholes in the law. They said then that they would develop a proposal to overhaul the agency.

Commissioner Scott Thomas, a Democrat, said he is interested in seeing the legislation.

"I'm very anxious to take a fresh look at whether the agency could be structured in a better way so we could be in a better position to apply the law as Congress intended," Thomas said. He was one of two commissioners who opposed the new rules the law's sponsors criticized as creating loopholes.

Thomas said one benefit of having three commissioners each from the two major parties is the assurance that any commission action is bipartisan.

Critics say the commission's partisan makeup too often leads to 3-3 deadlocks along party lines that force the FEC to drop cases against suspected violators.

Campaign finance watchdog groups including Common Cause (search) and Democracy 21 have proposed replacing the FEC with a new agency headed by a single administrator with stronger enforcement power and with a panel of administrative law judges to consider enforcement cases.

"This agency has a long history of failure," Democracy 21 (search) founder Fred Wertheimer said. "The track record of this agency is that it is a captured agency, an agency that responds (to) and reflects the interests of those being regulated as opposed to the interests of the American public."

The legislation comes as the law's sponsors join the government in defending the law before the Supreme Court, which is considering several challenges to its constitutionality.