Those Lamenting the “Hobbled” FEC Should Remember It Operates In Area of Protected Speech

This long Boston Globe piece by Christopher Rowland provides an interesting look at the ideological disputes at work between Republican and Democratic FEC Commissioners. Those who like to describe the FEC as “hobbled” or ineffectual should take account of a simple fact: the FEC is  not quite like other federal agencies in that the subject of its jurisdiction happens to be the most fundamental of all civil rights: the right to speak about and engage in politics.  Punishment should not be meted out based on flimsy evidence or novel applications of the campaign finance laws.  We understand these principles as applied in the criminal justice system, and they are equally important when it comes to policing political activity.  Commissioner McGahn, a Republican campaign finance attorney who has served on the Commission since 2008, discusses a bit of his philosophy in the article:

On matters of campaign finance, he is generally opposed to government interference and believes the Federal Election Commission for decades has unfairly trampled the free-speech rights of candidates, campaign contributors, and special interest groups.

McGahn openly disdains what he calls “reform-industry lobbyists,’’ whom he claims are out to chill political speech with disclosure rules and restrictions on political advertising.

“They have spent their entire life chasing this unicorn of a regulated political state, and it’s just failed miserably,’’ he added. “It’s not really our job to . . . use taxpayer money to push the pet agenda of reform industry lobbyists.’’

“You can’t horse-trade when it comes to the First Amendment,’’ McGahn declared.

McGahn cast himself as a champion of the little guy. He sides with individual politicians and campaign contributors who he says must navigate a maze of rules erected by “unelected bureaucrats’’ seeking to stifle speech and legitimate campaign activity.

Most reporting on the FEC focuses, of course, on the critics of McGahn’s position to the effect that the FEC is dead and ineffectual.  But McGahn’s comments deserve more attention.