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FEC Allows Corporate Gift-Giving to Senate Candidates, Flouts Federal Election Law

Nov. 20, 2009

FEC Allows Corporate Gift-Giving to Senate Candidates, Flouts Federal Election Law

Statement of Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist, Public Citizen

In a decision that unabashedly flouts federal election law and the new congressional ethics rules approved in 2007, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted Thursday to gut the restriction against corporations subsidizing senatorial candidates through the use of corporate jets.

Prohibiting federal candidates from traveling at subsidized fares aboard corporate jets is a centerpiece of the sweeping lobbying and ethics reforms approved by Congress in response to a long string of political scandals. Politics in Washington had become known as the “culture of corruption” fueled in no small part by corporations jetting members of Congress and federal candidates across the globe on travel junkets, often accompanied in flight by lobbyists pressing their corporate interests. These lavish corporate gifts to lawmakers and candidates seemed to rarely go unrewarded.

The appearance, if not actuality, of corporations buying influence through lending corporate jets to lawmakers caused a huge political backlash, eventually resulting in Congress banning such corporate gifts. The new law is worded slightly differently for candidates for the House of Represenatives and Senate, but all with the same result – no gifts from corporations through subsidized or reduced rates on the use of corporate jets. The Senate requires that candidates pay the full charter fare of renting the jet. The House simply bans the use of corporate jets altogether for candidates.

In a 4-2 vote, the FEC gutted the ban on such corporate gifts for Senate candidates. Clearly defying the spirit of the law, the agency – led by Commissioner Don McGahn – decided to reverse an earlier ruling and allow senators to fly on corporate jets at just first class airfare rates if the junket is paid for by a political party or political action committee.

McGahn has repeatedly led a caucus of the FEC to obstruct enforcement of campaign finance law. His term expired long ago. Nevertheless, he still sits on the agency while President Obama has neglected to appoint a replacement.

Public Citizen again renews the call to Obama to complete the appointment process for all three expired terms of the FEC and to replace these commissioners with people who will approach their duties responsibly and professionally.

Two years ago, this nation decided that travel junkets for members of Congress on corporate jets are simply unacceptable. We need an election agency that will enforce the new law.

To read Public Citizen’s last two calls for the president to fix the FEC, go to:
https://www.citizen.org/our-work/government-reform/articles/open-letter-re-fec-appointments-20090430 and https://www.citizen.org/pressreleases/lessons-emilys-list-defending-nations-campaign-finance-laws-requires-fixing-agency