Editorial by our Founder and President, Bradley Crate
Federal Election Commission Chair Ann Ravel recently described the state of the FEC as “worse than dysfunctional.” A lot of the discussion surrounding the Federal Election Commission’s dysfunction revolves around purported partisan gridlock among the agency’s six commissioners. This ignores operational problems, that if fixed could go a long way in making the agency more effective, relevant, and true to the spirit and letter of campaign finance law.
As CFO of the Romney for President campaign, treasurer to countless committees, and founder of campaign finance compliance firm, Red Curve Solutions, I have dealt frequently with the FEC at many different levels. In my experience, there are several business-minded, common sense improvements the FEC can make within a year that would make the agency more functional.
First, the FEC needs to improve its software and filing capabilities. While the FEC has made small improvements recently, namely enabling non-Senate committees to file their Statements of Organization and Statements of Candidacy online, much can be done to make the software and filing capabilities more user friendly and less ridden with technical issues. It might be something seemingly minute as identifying a report as an Amendment or formatting the text of a Form 99 (a Miscellaneous form to convey info to the FEC and the public). Or it might bear on important matters such as properly calculating aggregate totals or uploading and filing a large report that comes with a tremendous amount of data. Regardless of the problem, committees need the proper tools to help comply with the labyrinth of complex campaign finance laws that they spend lots of money and time trying to understand. The FEC’s software would benefit from the technological expertise and savvy of the private sector.
Second, the FEC needs to improve its internal communication among its different divisions. Staff members from my company speak with employees at the FEC every day. Many of the employees at the FEC are professional, pleasant, and hard-working. We have noticed that sometimes employees at different divisions of the agency say different and conflicting things regarding how the agency interprets the law or how a committee should approach a particular matter. This creates not only confusion among filers, but also creates unnecessary work for the agency internally when the confusion begets filing mistakes, unnecessary Requests for Additional Information, and even unnecessary enforcement matters. More frequent and clear communication between the Info Division, the Reports Analysis Division, and the Enforcement Division, would save time and money for the agency and the committees doing their best to comply with federal law.
Finally, the FEC should implement a streamlined method to terminate inactive committees. Many committees are inactive, but cannot terminate due to pending frivolous, partisan complaints filed years ago but not based on any substantive violations. These “zombie” committees are still required to file periodic reports. My campaign finance company Red Curve Solutions handles the bookkeeping and FEC filings for dozens of committees. Often, we spend hours filing paperwork for committees that the FEC refuses to terminate. Instead of having these committees languish in campaign finance purgatory, the FEC should allow committees with frivolous complaints levied against them, to file expedited termination reports and require the FEC to adjudicate and resolve any outstanding issues within six months. If the Commission cannot resolve the issue within six months, the committee is automatically terminated. Such a small change would save thousands of hours on compliance costs and allow FEC attorneys to focus on more important campaign regulation matters.
Crate is the president and founder of Red Curve Solutions, and the former Chief Financial Officer for the Romney for President Campaign.