THE FEC TESTIFIES
September 25, 1997
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SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: The committee will come to order, please.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee today completed its first week of hearings analyzing current campaign finance law in preparation for a floor debate on reform legislation beginning next week. A panel of election law experts, including Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, said the current laws designed to regulate so-called "soft money" are inadequate for the task.
LAWRENCE NOBLE, General Counsel, Federal Election Commission: We are working in an area that frequently pits First Amendment interests against the long-recognized compelling governmental interest in ensuring that our elections are free from real or apparent corruption. From the beginning the campaign finance laws have been as much a product of the courts as a product of the legislative process. The result is a system that is a product of no singular vision or necessarily consistent rationale, a system with complex rules which are open to a variety of interpretations. Thus, it is not surprising that sometimes even the best intentioned campaign and party people have problems figuring out what they can and cannot do.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Thank you very much. Over the years, without Congress really enacting any legislation that directly pertains to so many of these issues we've wound up with a totally different system than what Congress decided on last time. It's become an evolutionary process, court decisions, FEC decisions, parties and individuals pushing the envelope and getting by with it and so forth. That's all I have. Sen. Glenn.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to talk a minute about the FEC, itself, because I think we rely on the FEC to be our monitor in these things obviously. And yet, I agree with you, Mr. Noble, it's so woefully underfunded and undermanned. Can you tell me how many lawyers you have over there, grand total?
LAWRENCE NOBLE: Well--
SEN. JOHN GLENN: I don't need to an exact--I believe it's around thirty something, is that correct?
LAWRENCE NOBLE: At present, with regard to enforcement, we have probably about 30 attorneys, 35 attorneys working on enforcement.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Okay. Now, you also have gone from the number of races you have to cover from 1985--I see that list at 1873--and in 1995-96, the number of candidates that you had to cover was 2,605.
LAWRENCE NOBLE: Correct.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: More people are running apparently. You have to cover these things. All the reporting has to cover through the primaries.
LAWRENCE NOBLE: Yes.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Where there's real mischief going on out there, how many investigators do you have that can go out and investigate?
LAWRENCE NOBLE: We have two investigators for the whole enforcement process. That's the point I wanted to make. And I think this is a little bit ridiculous.
KWAME HOLMAN: The panel agreed the other major problem is so-called issue advocacy advertising, commercials financed by independent groups that attack candidates by name. The committee viewed an example from the 1996 presidential campaign.
AD NARRATOR: The Oval Office. If Dole sits here and Gingrich runs Congress, what could happen? Medicare slashed; women's right to choose gone; education, school, drug programs cut. President Clinton says balance the budget, cut taxes for families, college tuition, stands up to Dole and Gingrich, but if Dole wins and Gingrich runs Congress, there will be nobody there to stop them.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi asked former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter if he thought the ad violated election law.
TREVOR POTTER, Former Chair, Federal Election Commission: I think the result looking at that is that you'd say that's an expenditure by the Democratic National Committee on behalf of its nominee, which it's allowed to make and would count against its $12 million in national committee spending for the Clinton campaign. With the identity of both candidates in their and the references to if Dole wins I think that's an electioneering message.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some current members of the FEC agree such ads violate current regulations, but several courts have taken differing views. Nonetheless, Cochran says the FEC should put more effort into enforcing such laws before Congress embarks on new campaign finance legislation.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, (R) Mississippi: In view of the fact that we're being called on by so many to vote for a specific proposal for reform now to try to make the system work better. Wouldn't want one step toward making the system work better to enforce the laws that we have now in a more aggressive way or a way that engenders respect for the fact that we do have laws on the books now that are being cavalierly treated by those who are involved in the election process?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: All right. We're adjourned.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Committee continues its campaign reform analysis next week.