Reforming the FEC: Inadequate Punitive Measures

Further undermining the Commission’s efficacy is the inadequacy of the fines levied against guilty parties. Former Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) once noted that “the FEC … might levy a $5,000 fine on me three years after the fact … I can raise that in a single night in a campaign event … so that’s hardly what I would call a deterrent against illegal behavior.” Ironically, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 also known as "McCain-Feingold," dramatically increased the monetary penalties for violations of the FECA.

Unfortunately, the FEC rarely seeks anything close to the maximum penalty. This stems partly from the partisan makeup of the FEC -- whereby each side blocks attempts to seek maximum penalties -- and partly because a court order is required to impose any monetary penalties. However, the FEC’s track record in getting courts to impose these penalties is rather dismal.

One possible solution would be to create mandatory minimum penalties with real bite. Whatever the solution, Congress must address this ineffectual penalty structure so that violators know that have something to fear when they run afoul of the law.

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