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Politics

Republican FEC Commissioners Go Public With Complaints About Mystery Redaction

The GOP commissioners still can't unlock a document that could guide political lawyers counseling campaign clients on how to avoid sanctions.

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The Republican commissioners of the Federal Election Commission have broken their silence about the mysterious 76-page document that was redacted against their wishes in the deadlocked decision over whether Crossroads GPS was a legitimate nonprofit.

In a statement posted to the FEC's website late Tuesday, the commission's three Republicans pulled back the curtain a bit on the missing document. "We do not believe that these redactions are necessary," they wrote, saying they had sought to release the documents in a closed-door commission meeting but "the vote failed."

National Journal first reported the existence of the massive redaction and the behind-the-scenes controversy earlier this month.

 

The sealed document is the initial report from the FEC's lawyers to the commission, from 2011, recommending how to proceed in the Crossroads case, one of the most consequential before the FEC in years. That initial report was withdrawn and replaced with a new one from the counsel's office a year later. When the Republicans sought to publish the first report, along with their opinion in the case, it was blocked first by the Office of General Counsel and later by the FEC's Democratic-aligned commissioners.

In their statement Tuesday evening, the commission's Republicans—Lee Goodman, Caroline Hunter, and Matthew Peterson—wrote that the document "was clearly prepared with an expectation that it would be reviewed by commissioners and the general public."

The contents of the redacted pages are important as they could serve as a roadmap for political lawyers for how the FEC made its decision and help them provide guidance to political groups for how to avoid future sanctions.

"It should have been publicly released so that it could be available to a reviewing court and litigants as part of the administrative record in this matter," the Republican commissioners wrote. In their statement, the Republicans said that the redacted pages include both the lawyers' first report, "along with an accompanying Factual and Legal Analysis."

They also discussed, in greater detail, the differences between the initial sealed report and final published one. The GOP commissioners said the final report used "a calendar year and only a calendar year" to determine whether a group was a legitimate nonprofit but that the Office of General Counsel's legal test "was evolving behind closed doors," suggesting the initial report looked at a different time frame.

The Republicans wrote that Crossroads, a Karl Rove-affiliated group, and other groups "did not have clear prior notice that their respective major purposes would be analyzed by OGC under a single calendar-year rule."

It is possible the redacted documents could still be made public, after several groups have sued the FEC for its deadlock in the case and could request them as part of the lawsuit.

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