Transparency in campaign finance is only as achievable as agency that enforces it. The entity that keeps a watchful eye on money in politics is the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Unfortunately, the Washington Times reports a sad truth about the reality of the FEC’s power in the current political landscape:
The FEC’s powers are so weak that for most offenses it can only ask political groups to enter a voluntary process in which they bargain to agree to a monetary settlement. If the group refuses or an agreement isn’t reached, then the FEC must take them to court to try to enforce its judgment… …[this] has occurred about 100 times since 1976, an FEC spokesperson said.
This makes transparency in the short term nearly impossible. There have been multiple cases this election of alleged violations of FEC regulations on either side of the aisle. Whether they lead to negotiations or legal investigations, none of them will be resolved before election day. To further declaw the watchdog;
In cases where the FEC suspects severe problems in a campaign, they conduct a comprehensive audit. But that process touches few committees. As of this month, the FEC has released audits of five candidates and three political action committees for the 2010 election, compared with 27 candidates and 11 PACs for 2006.
Part of the problem is that the FEC has not been expanding their numbers to keep up with the expansion of money in politics.
The FEC has 30 auditors, the same number it did a decade ago, even though the amount of money in campaigns has grown dramatically. In the 2000 election cycle, the agency oversaw 5,700 committees that raised $2.3 billion; this election, there are 8,400 committees and by this summer they had already raised $3 billion.
What we are left with is an underpowered enforcement agency that hasn’t expanded proportionately to the growth of the field which it is monitoring. As the political climate continues to be saturated with money, the effectiveness of the watchdog that is the FEC is quickly declining. Without any reform or strong enforcement of the regulations meant to preserve democracy, we are faced with an obvious result: democracy will be systematically decayed by private interests unless we make a united stand to stop it.