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Dec. 12, 2012

Enforcement at Risk: Agencies That Help Enforce Congressional Ethics Rules and Federal Campaign Finance Laws Are in Danger

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Groups of various political persuasions joined together today to call to upon House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to reauthorize and appoint new board members to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), and for President Barack Obama finally to step up to the plate and appoint to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) new commissioners who will pull the campaign finance agency out of its moribund state.

 Enforcement of congressional ethics rules and the nation’s campaign finance laws are at dire risk if these two watchdog agencies are allowed to go defunct.

 The terms of four of the six board members of the OCE expire at the end of the month. If these board members are not promptly replaced, the critical work of this agency in overseeing enforcement of congressional ethics will come to a halt in the 113th Congress. Boehner and Pelosi have exclusive authority to appoint a new OCE board.

 Meanwhile, the deadlocked FEC has become so dysfunctional when it comes to enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws that it is incapable of fulfilling its mission. The terms of five of the six FEC commissioners have long expired, providing Obama with an ideal opportunity to replace the feuding commissioners with appointees dedicated to enforcing the campaign finance law.

 Eleven watchdog groups from various ideological persuasions – Americans for Campaign Reform, Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, Democracy 21, Judicial Watch, League of Women Voters, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG – today signed on to letters either to the congressional leaders and/or Obama calling upon them to replace the members of the OCE and FEC whose terms have expired with people dedicated to making these agencies function responsibly and effectively.

 Several of the groups noted that the very existence of the OCE, a semi-independent watchdog agency run by people who are not members of Congress, has helped encourage the House Ethics Committee to become more active and accountable. In the short four years of its existence, the OCE has prompted the Ethics Committee to issue more than three times the number of disciplinary actions than it has done in the entire previous decade. (To see the statistics on the work done by OCE, go here.)

 In the letter to Boehner and Pelosi, the groups wrote:

 “The terms of four members of OCE’s board will expire at the end of this year, leaving just the two chairmen – Porter Goss and David Skaggs – as sitting board members. OCE cannot function without an active board of directors. … It is the responsibility of solely your two offices to agree upon and appoint board members for the expired terms in the 113th Congress … We urge you to proceed in a timely fashion to consider and appoint qualified and responsible members to OCE’s board of directors so that the agency’s useful work is not interrupted as we enter the 113th Congress.”

 In just the last two days, an online petition drive by Public Citizen has garnered more than 15,000 signatures (and growing) from citizens asking that Boehner and Pelosi appoint new board members and reauthorize the OCE. (The petition is available here.)

 At the same press conference, many of the groups appealed to Obama to breathe life back into the FEC by replacing the commissioners whose terms have expired. In all four core mission areas – enforcement, audits, regulations and advisory opinions – the number of official actions taken by the FEC has plummeted to all-time lows in the past few years, and the percentage of deadlocked votes on the reduced number of actions it has voted on have spiked to incapacitating levels. In enforcement actions alone, the percentage of deadlocked votes has increased about eight-fold annually since prior to 2008.  (To see the falling number of actions and rising deadlocked votes, go here.)

 In the letter to Obama, the groups wrote:

 “Today’s Federal Election Commission is a broken agency that has itself become a national campaign finance scandal. … The immediate future of the FEC will follow one of two paths: either federal campaign finance laws will continue to be largely unenforced by a moribund agency, or new commissioners will be appointed who are committed to carrying out the agency’s mission. … We encourage you to take the latter path of nominating and seeking the final appointment of responsible commissioners who will fulfill their statutory duties – and we encourage you to make these appointments soon.”

The letter to Boehner and Pelosi on the OCE is available here.

 The letter to Obama on the FEC is available here.

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