Tags: FEC | Chairman | Says | Shays-Meehan | 'Unworkable' | and | 'Unenforceable'

FEC Chairman Says Shays-Meehan is 'Unworkable' and 'Unenforceable'

Thursday, 14 February 2002 12:00 AM

"In fact, the Shays-Meehan bill would make it more difficult to achieve consistent, fair, and, yes, vigorous enforcement of campaign finance laws," said FEC Chairman David Mason. "Furthermore, certain significant provisions of Shays-Meehan are so complex, so vague, or so broad as to be unworkable, or unenforceable."

Mason spoke Wednesday afternoon as members of the House were debating which version of the Shays-Meehan bill they would vote on, and which amendments would alter the bill before the final vote.

Opponents of the bill have claimed for months that some provisions would violate the free speech and free association rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Mason agrees.

"Some provisions of Shays-Meehan - the 30/60 day 'electioneering blackout,' for instance - are flatly unconstitutional," he said, and that "other provisions raise significant constitutional difficulties."

The "electioneering blackout" to which Mason referred is a provision in the bill that would regulate the use of federal candidates' names in electronic or print advertising, paid for by third parties, for 30 days prior to a primary election and 60 days prior to a general election.

No one, other than candidates or the media, would be able to criticize pending legislation, such as Shays-Meehan, by name, or report on candidates' voting records during the blackout without setting up a separate fundraising effort and divulging their donor lists.

Mason told a capacity audience at the Lehrman Auditorium of the Heritage Foundation that the varying standards within the proposal would wreak havoc on the FEC's enforcement ability.

"Shays-Meehan has numerous poorly defined standards, which are applied differently to different groups, in different dollar amounts, and at different times," he said, "creating a complexity that makes voluntary or administrative enforcement quite difficult."

Currently, the FEC has a single statutory standard establishing its regulatory authority. The agency has jurisdiction over expenditures made "in connection with" or "for the purpose of influencing" a federal election. The courts have ruled that the two phrases are essentially interchangeable.

The Supreme Court has also limited the scope of that jurisdiction by ruling that the activity in question must involve, in most cases, "express advocacy of a clearly defined candidate."

Examples would include advertising that uses the phrases "vote for" or "re-elect" or "defeat" connected with a candidate's name or likeness, according to the court's ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.

By contrast, Mason says Shays-Meehan would expand the FEC's jurisdiction in terms of the scope and type of activities it regulates and the type and number of organizations regulated.

The bill would diversify the regulatory standards imposed, and the thresholds and time periods in which they apply. It would also multiply reporting requirements and would introduce new thresholds and categories for reporting.

Even if Congress were to give the commission new resources to dedicate to the increasingly complicated standards, Mason said, some provisions of the law would prove difficult to enforce.

"Today the FEC's principal regulatory focus is on fewer than 7,000 active, registered political committees, about 5,000 PACs, 1,000 or so active candidate committees, and a few hundred party committees," he said.

"Shays-Meehan would expand our jurisdictional focus to thousands of local party committees and to an undeterminable number of voter registration and issue organizations, and it does so absent a comprehensive regulatory framework," Mason said.

"The result is not likely to be more vigorous regulation but sporadic and potentially arbitrary enforcement," he added.

FEC member Darryl Wold agrees.

"I share his concerns about the enforceability and vagueness of the bill," Wold told CNSNews.com following Mason's remarks.

Attorney Cleta Mitchell is an election law specialist with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Foley-Lardner.

She is critical of Shays-Meehan supporters who claim they want to get "big money" out of politics.

"Rich people come out way ahead on this," Mitchell said in a small group discussion following Mason's speech. "Money won't talk after this, it will shout. Rich people will win."

Mitchell says the end result of the bill, if it becomes law, will be to drive most individuals and small issues groups away from the political arena because they cannot afford to hire attorneys to sort through the complexities of the law.

Mason agrees that Shays-Meehan is as unfair to those who would be subject to its restrictions as it is to the members of the commission who will have to try to enforce it if it becomes law.

"Vague standards put the Federal Election Commission in the position of either attempting to police everything said about any member of Congress or of drawing up specific regulations that reformers will complain might miss something," he said.

"The former simply cannot be done and, thus, when Congress approves vague standards, it passes unenforceable reform," Mason concluded.

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In fact, the Shays-Meehan bill would make it more difficult to achieve consistent, fair, and, yes, vigorous enforcement of campaign finance laws, said FEC Chairman David Mason. Furthermore, certain significant provisions of Shays-Meehan are so complex, so vague, or so...
Thursday, 14 February 2002 12:00 AM
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