FEC Commissioner Goodman: IRS May Need Bipartisan Oversight

Friday, 25 Jul 2014 05:42 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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The IRS may need to be governed by a body similar to the Federal Election Commission to stop such scandals as the tea party-targeting controversy, FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman tells Newsmax TV.

"The Congress in its wisdom set up the FEC as a bipartisan commission constituted of three Republican commissioners and three Democratic commissioners to guard against partisan enforcement of the Federal Election Campaign Act and election laws,'' Goodman said Friday on "The Steve Malzberg Show."

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"The IRS may need a dose of bipartisanship in its governance so that partisan … or ideological enforcement of the law, can't reign in such an agency that has such great control over First Amendment freedoms, because of the number of nonprofit organizations that it regulates.''

But Goodman also has concerns about the FEC's regulation of free speech in politics — concerns that emerged this week as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin published a new book.

Ryan asked the FEC whether it would be legal for him to buy his own book, "The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea," and distribute it to political donors as he tours to promote it.

On Wednesday, Goodman warned that his FEC colleagues might attempt to regulate book publishers as the commission discussed the Ryan book and refused to exempt book publishers from campaign finance laws.

Goodman and other GOP members of the FEC wanted the commission to give Ryan's book, and its publisher Grand Central Publishing, an exemption from FEC rules that regulate what can be said about political figures without falling foul of campaign finance laws.

Such exemptions are routinely given to newspapers and to television editorials.

"When the Congress wrote the first Federal Election Campaign Act in the 1970s, they realized the press is essential to our healthy democracy, and so as a manifestation of the free press clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, Congress included in the Federal Election Campaign Act an explicit exemption for the press,'' Goodman said.

"Over the years, there have been debates within the commission over how broad that exemption is and who precisely qualifies for the exemption.

"When Paul Ryan brought [us] an advisory opinion request … I took issue with my commission because there were not four votes – we are a commission of six votes and it takes four votes to approve an opinion. We only had three votes to recognize a well-established publisher of Paul Ryan's book as the press entitled to the free press protections of the First Amendment.''

While the book was later exempted under a limited proviso, Goodman
said this is not first time that some pro-regulatory commissioners have taken the view that press exemption is "constricted and narrow.''

"The commission was able to send Paul Ryan on his way with a narrower exemption to allow him and his publisher to market his book, but there are limits on the exemption that we could muster a majority vote of the commission for,'' he said.

"To me that's quite ominous because although Paul Ryan's issue was resolved on a narrower legal read, publishers now live under a general cloud of regulation.

"The degree to which they may be regulated by the government is uncertain, and this doesn't just affect book publishers. This was a case about a book publisher, but it also affects the First Amendment freedoms of television stations.''

One example, Goodman said, involved Boston television station WCVB that features a regular Sunday news program much like NBC's "Meet the Press."

"WCVB had invited into its studio two candidates for a joint appearance and they called the joint appearance a debate. A third-party candidate complained that by inviting only two candidates, WCVB had made unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates that appeared,'' Goodman said.

"That is, the value of the time on air and all those production costs would have constituted illegal contributions. At that time, I said the TV station was exempt from our regulation, and we shouldn't touch the case.

"Unfortunately, some commissioners thought we had regulatory jurisdiction, and they sat in [judgment of] the editorial criteria WCVB's newsroom exercised in choosing those two candidates. So the failure of a majority of the commission to recognize a broad and clear exemption for the press is quite ominous.''

Asked why the FEC appears to have shifted into practicing partisan politics in its authority over free speech, Goodman said:

"I'm not making a partisan case here today. [Billionaire businessman and political gadfly] George Soros had a book several years ago, and do you know that there were votes on this commission to punish George Soros for marketing his book through a direct mail and email list and using that list to market his book?

"Steve Forbes on the right when he was running for president published a column in Forbes magazine and there were votes on this commission to find that Steve Forbes had violated the law by writing a column in Forbes magazine.

"So the broader point that I'm making is that the government shouldn't be in the business of picking and choosing and that there is always an inherent concern that when the government does have regulatory power over the media, there is always the ongoing threat of selective enforcement or picking and choosing those that you like versus those that you don't like.''

Goodman declined to point the finger at specific commissioners.

"I'm raising a broader issue in trying to raise consciousness within the commission and in the public that this commission must protect the free press rights of publishers of books, magazines, TV stations, and radio shows,'' he said.

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