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4 years after Citizens United, FEC still hasn't changed rules

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Supreme Court,Campaign Finance,Campaigns,FEC,Citizens United,Law

It has been over four years since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling opening the doors to corporate and union political funding, but a bitterly divided Federal Election Commission still hasn't rewritten their rules to reflect the constitutional change.

The reason: Democrats on the FEC want to use the rewrite to open the door to sweeping new donor disclosure requirements, while Republicans want to make only the changes needed to comply with the Jan. 21, 2010, decision. Each side blames the other for inaction.

Republicans on the commission have repeatedly tried to update the regulations, offering at least three proposals. Two were killed on 3-3 votes, and the third has failed to move forward due to Democratic opposition.

“It's a point of embarrassment,” said FEC Chairman Lee Goodman, who has made updating the 544-page “Code of Federal Regulations” a top priority of his one-year leadership term.

Goodman, one of three Republicans on the evenly-split six-person FEC, said he is “hopeful” that he will finally get the rules to reflect the changes mandated by the court decision during his final eight months as chairman. He also hopes to make changes in the rules following the recent court decision that eliminated caps on how much contributors can give overall.

“It seems to me that we should find a way to fulfill our minimal obligation of conforming our regulations book to the Constitution,” said Goodman. “We have an obligation to clarify the public record because the regulations need to be accurate and constitutional,” he said.

One section of the FEC's code needs to be revised to note that unions and corporations can make independent expenditures, but experts said that other areas need to be edited because the anti-corporate/union spending is like a “vine” that snakes its way through the regulations.

That section is “Part 114-Corporate and Labor Organization Activity.”

Of course, the FEC is not enforcing the outdated regulations, but experts said it is unknown how many groups since the decision have read the old rules and abandoned seeking corporate or union funding.

At a Senate hearing this week, the FEC's inability to rewrite the rules to reflect the Citizens United decision was mocked by a former FEC chairman. “The commission appears to still be deadlocked on this issue,” said Trevor Potter. “No new regulation; no action on disclosure.”

In fact, election law experts said that Democrats want update the rules with a version of the so-called “Disclose Act,” which would limit some corporate expenditures in politics and require a new layer of donor identity. The act was so controversial, it has repeatedly been rejected in the Senate.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.