WASHINGTON - Transparency advocates yesterday excoriated the Federal Election Commission for what they called increasingly lax oversight of campaign finance as the country barrels toward what are expected to be the most expensive elections in history next year.
The advocates - including nonpartisan watchdogs Democracy 21, Public Citizen, and the Campaign Legal Center - said the FEC has repeatedly failed to issue new regulations clarifying aspects of a Supreme Court ruling last year allowing companies and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts on elections.
Among the questions still unanswered: Can foreign companies with some US operations legally contribute to US elections? In the past, foreign citizens and companies have been barred from spending money in the American political system. Also unanswered: Should American organizations that spend money to influence elections have to disclose the source of the money?
The FEC, which is composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, has so far deadlocked on issuing the rules.
“It’s an extraordinary disaster on top of an extraordinarily disastrous Supreme Court decision,’’ said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.
The groups also called on President Obama to appoint new members to the commission, hoping the deadlock could be broken. The terms of five of the six commissioners have expired.
Commissioners are appointed by the president but must be confirmed by the Senate, a process that has been increasingly difficult for the Obama administration amid partisan bickering in Washington. Obama nominated one new commissioner in 2009, but the nominee failed to win confirmation in the Senate.
“If the Senate Republicans want to block nominations, then the battle should go on in the Senate,’’ Wertheimer said. “The only person with the power [to begin the nomination process] is President Obama, and so far he has refused to do anything.’’
Public Citizen compiled statistics that show the FEC has launched fewer audits and enforcement actions in recent years, partially because a majority of commissioners must agree to take such actions.
The number of investigations has dropped from more than 800 in 2005 to fewer than 200 last year.
“The FEC is broken,’’ said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “Partisan deadlock is paralyzing the agency.’’
WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Senate yesterday dealt President Obama the third in a string of defeats on his stimulus-style jobs agenda, blocking a $60 billion measure for building and repairing infrastructure such as roads and rail lines.
Supporters of the failed measure said it would have created tens of thousands of construction jobs and lifted the still struggling economy. But Republicans unanimously opposed it for its tax surcharge on the richest Americans and spending totals they said were too high.
The 51-to-49 vote fell well short of the 60 votes required under Senate procedures to start work on the bill. Every Republican, including Scott Brown of Massachusetts, opposed the president, as did Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and former Democrat Joe Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, who still aligns with the party.
Obama’s loss was anything but a surprise, but the White House and its Democratic allies continue to press popular ideas from Obama’s jobs package in what Republicans say is nothing more than a bare-knuckle attempt to gain a political edge by invoking the mantra of jobs but doing little to seek compromise.
Boehner not opposed to increasing revenues
WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday he is willing to entertain additional revenues as part of a plan to cut the nation’s deficit, but he declined to provide specifics.
“I do think there’s room for revenues’’ to be considered, the Ohio Republican said, “but there is clearly a limit to the revenues that may be available.’’
Republicans have been steadfast in demanding that only spending cuts be used to narrow the nation’s projected budget deficit. A bipartisan supercommittee is required to identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade but is bogged down over whether to include revenue increases as part of the equation.
Boehner, in behind-the-scenes negotiations with President Obama this summer, reportedly agreed to consider $800 billion in revenue increases as part of a $4 trillion comprehensive plan that included changes to Medicare and Social Security. Those talks faltered.
Last week, Democrats on the debt panel offered to reduce Medicare spending, in exchange for new tax revenues of up to $1.3 trillion. Republicans rejected the idea. Republicans had countered with their own plan - without raising taxes - but it was rejected by Democratic leaders.
Boehner, in a roundtable with reporters, said he would “respect the work’’ of the debt-slashing supercommittee, adding that “it would be unfair’’ not do so.
Bobby Caina Calvan