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Amid GOP Pressure, FEC Releases Enforcement Documents for First Time Amid GOP Pressure, FEC Releases Enforcement Documents for First Time

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Amid GOP Pressure, FEC Releases Enforcement Documents for First Time

May 23, 2012
The Federal Election Commission on Wednesday released, for the first time, enforcement documents after members of Congress asked the watchdog agency to be more transparent about how it enforces the nation's election laws.

Republican lawmakers, who held a hearing of a House Administration subcommittee last fall about the FEC's procedures, issued a statement thanking the federal agency "for its cooperation."

They complained that until now politicians had "been forced to navigate a labyrinth of election laws without adequate guidance or transparency to the enforcement process."

"This release is an important step that will increase transparency in FEC operations and hopefully improve the understanding of, and adherence to, our complex election laws," the Republican lawmakers said in a statement.

But the FEC made clear that releasing its previously internal enforcement manual does not entitle politicians to any more rights than they previously had.

In fact, on the top of every page of the 400-plus page document, the FEC stamped that, "This document does not bind the Commission, nor does it create substantive or procedural rights."

Still, the Republicans hailed the document's release as a victory and pledged to work "with the agency as it continues to improve public access to its enforcement procedures."

But Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), the ranking member of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, used the document release to criticize House Republicans and the FEC, which Gonzalez charged with being a gridlocked agency incapable of actually enforcing campaign finance rules.

"With today's disclosure, House Republicans have made it a little easier for campaign operatives to decide whether violating campaign finance laws is worth the fines they might have to pay," Gonzalez said in a statement. "Of course, an enforcement manual is only of use if the commission chooses to enforce these rules. In recent years, we have seen partisan, 3-3 votes prevent FEC from doing that, or from passing updated regulations so necessary in the wake of Citizens United. Watchdog groups have called it a 'broken' agency. Perhaps, now that these documents are public, the three commissioners will be willing to vote to enforce the rules."

-- Shane Goldmacher and Andrew Joseph

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