CREW launches irresponsible, unethical accusations against FEC

April 6, 2011   •  By Sean Parnell
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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington today launched another baseless attack on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), particularly against Commissioner Don McGahn.

The scurrilous attack on Commissioner McGahn was jammed into a media release from CREW announcing they had filed a complaint with the FEC regarding alleged reimbursements of campaign contributions made by employees of the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Late last month, a special report prepared for the Fiesta Bowl’s Board of Directors by an independent investigator documents a great deal of unethical and illegal behavior on the part of the former President and CEO (full report here).

The CREW complaint to the FEC is straightforward and reasonable enough – reimbursements for contributions are flat-out illegal, and in this case it looks like funds from the nonprofit itself were used to make the reimbursements. If the special report is accurate, there’s no shortage of illegalities to investigate.

But CREW head honcho Melanie Sloan apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to bash the FEC in general and Commissioner McGahn in particular:

Will the FEC Fumble the Feista Bowl Fiasco?

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the Fiesta Bowl for violating campaign finance law by reimbursing Fiesta Bowl executives and their spouses for campaign contributions to Arizona politicians…

“The question here isn’t whether anyone broke the law — independent investigators already found violations – it is whether the FEC will do anything about it,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.  “When FEC Commissioner Donald McGahn openly brags about not enforcing the law, Americans can’t have confidence that even those who flagrantly and deliberately violate our campaign finance laws will be held accountable.”

Prior to joining the FEC, Mr. McGahn once served as a top campaign finance lawyer to disgraced former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX).  In March, McGahn publicly expressed his contempt for election laws, admitting during a keynote speech at a symposium at the University of Virginia Law School to “not enforcing the law as Congress passed it.” 

The problem (well, one of the many problems) with Sloan’s statement is that she has wildly distorted what Commissioner McGahn said. As CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith pointed out a few days ago, McGahn was not bragging about not enforcing the law, he was making the rather obvious point that the laws Congress passed in the area of campaign finance are far different today due to the way the courts have defined, narrowed, and struck down certain sections of those laws.

To cite just one law that the FEC and Commissioner McGahn isn’t enforcing as Congress passed it, several key provisions of McCain-Feingold have been struck down, particularly the severe restrictions on electioneering communications and the so-called ‘Millionaires Amendment.’ Does Sloan believe that the it would be responsible and ethical for the FEC and Commissioner McGahn to enforce these laws as Congress passed them, even though they’ve been ruled unconstitutional?

It’s unlikely that even Sloan believes this. Instead, it appears that CREW just couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at an agency and a person who do not happen to share the views of this self-styled “good government” group on how severely free speech should be suppressed.

At this rate, CREW will wind up with just about as much credibility as that other famed “watchdog,” Melvin P. Thorpe.

Sean Parnell