Campaign Finance Will Have to Be Addressed…Someday

When the Federal Elections Commission chair says that her department is “worse than dysfunctional,” that there will not be any enforcement of the rules, and other commissioners say that no one obeys the few rules that are left, it seems that should raise more than a few alarm bells, no?

The chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission says she’s largely given up hope of reining in abuses in raising and spending money in the 2016 presidential campaign and calls the agency she oversees “worse than dysfunctional….”

Ravel said she plans on concentrating on getting information out publicly, rather than continuing what she sees as a futile attempt to take action against major violations, the Times reported in a story posted to its website Saturday night. She said she was resigned to the fact that “there is not going to be any real enforcement” in the coming election, the newspaper reported.

“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” said Ravel, a Democrat. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the FEC is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

With more dark money than ever flowing into presidential contests and with SuperPAC-holding billionaires openly staging their own private primaries, the American campaign finance system has moved from tragedy to farce.

Political scientists like to argue that after a certain point the extra money doesn’t actually affect outcomes that much–and they’re likely right. But what they overlook is the fact that politicians can’t assume this is true and don’t want to be outspent in their campaigns.

The biggest problem with outrageous amounts of money in elections isn’t so much that the money will necessarily sway elections, as that whoever gets elected will be too afraid to act against the bidding of those moneyed interests once they hold office, or feel like they owe favors to the interests that funded them. Add to that the fact that it’s increasingly impossible for the public to know where the money even comes from, and it’s a perfect cauldron of corruption without even necessarily influencing who actually wins at the ballot box.

This will ultimately have to be addressed for any real progress on core economic issues to be made. Maybe not now, but someday soon.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.