Democrat Politician Protection Act Would Turn Bipartisan FEC Into a Partisan Weapon

‘The evenness of the FEC is a vital way to ensuring Americans’ political speech — and campaigns for public office — are regulated fairly and evenhandedly. Of course that needs to be done on a bipartisan basis. But the Democrats want to throw that right out the window and carve out a partisan majority on this crucial commission.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding House Democrats’ proposal to centralize electoral control in Washington, D.C. and to erode free speech:

“As I alluded to earlier this week, I have a feeling this Congress is just getting started discussing Speaker Pelosi’s signature bill, H.R. 1. I, for one, am eager to continue shining the spotlight on the Democrat Politician Protection Act and asking why, exactly, Washington D.C. Democrats are so intent on assigning themselves a whole lot more power over what American citizens can say about politics, how we can say it, and how we cast our ballots.

“Remember, among the many fairly blatant power plays built into this legislation is a naked attempt to turn our neutral Federal Election Commission into a partisan weapon. This is a body that – since Watergate, and for obvious reasons – has had an even-numbered membership and equal division between the two parties. Enforcement and penalty require both parties to agree — or at least one commissioner from one party has to agree with three commissioners of another party. This is meant to ensure that complaints are evaluated on their substance, not any political considerations.

“Well, I guess Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues are tired of playing fair and trying to persuade the old-fashioned way. Because the Democrat Politician Protection Act would take the FEC down to a five-member body and give sitting presidents the power to appoint the chairperson -- who holds the keys to determine who to investigate and what enforcement to pursue. The evenness of the FEC is a vital way to ensuring Americans’ political speech — and campaigns for public office — are regulated fairly and evenhandedly. Of course that needs to be done on a bipartisan basis. But the Democrats want to throw that right out the window and carve out a partisan majority on this crucial commission.

“This proposal is outrageous enough on its face. But just wait until you hear about all the new things the Democratic Politician Protection Act would let this newly-partisan FEC actually do. First, they’d turn it over to the party of the president, so we’ve got a clear majority to go after the minority. But let’s see what they can do. There are incredibly vague new standards that seem tailor-made to give this partisan FEC the maximum latitude to penalize or silence certain speech. You begin to get the picture. Of course this partisan FEC is going to want to silence the voice of its opponents. So, let’s have a couple of examples. The newly-partisan FEC would be handed the ability to determine what kind of speech is, quote, ‘campaign-related’ -- growing its jurisdiction and widening its bureaucratic wingspan over more of the public discourse, including issues of the day and not just elections.

“So, private citizens, for example would be required to make the government aware of times they spend even small amounts of money to engage in First Amendment activities. Private citizens have to notify the government if they’re going to engage by spending small amounts of money on First Amendment activities expressing themselves, or else face penalties. More speech would fall into this category where Americans have to dutifully notify federal bureaucrats that they’re speaking their mind or else pay a fine. To put it another way: Free speech, as long as you fill out government forms and mail a couple of carbon-copies to Washington D.C. In other cases, Democrats want to impose stunningly vague, broad, and potentially unconstitutional restrictions on the abilities of all kinds of advocacy groups -- on all sides of the political spectrum -- from exercising their constitutional right to speak out about elected politicians and their positions on substantive issues.

“So, let’s go over that again because I know this is a technical subject. Under the guise of cracking down on ‘super PAC coordination,’ Democrats want to give a partisan FEC new powers to prohibit advocacy groups from weighing in on politicians’ job performance and the issues of the day under a broad set of new conditions. Washington Democrats want individual American citizens, civic groups, trade associations, labor unions, and nonprofits to face more restrictions, more hurdles, and more potential penalties for daring to have an opinion about the political races that decide who gets to Washington in the first place.

“Call me old-fashioned, but I remember when both political parties were more interested in trying to win debates than in trying to shut down debates. This would be an FEC designed to stifle free speech and tilt the playing field in the direction of the party of the president. I remember when constitutionally-minded leaders on both sides of the aisle would have recoiled at efforts to chill or even prohibit private citizens’ abilities to speak. And -- let’s not forget -- in every one of these cases, when the fuzzy new lines and vague rules need enforcing, who has the final say? Why, that newly-partisan Federal Election Commission! It determines who gets to speak, and who doesn’t.

“So my Democratic colleagues are trying to muddy the rule book and mount a hostile takeover of the referees, all at the same time. Let me just close with this. Back in 1974, as the creation of the FEC was debated here in this chamber, the California Democrat Senator Alan Cranston gave this warning: Here’s what he said, ‘the FEC has such a potential for abuse in our democratic society that the president should not be given power over the Commission.’  

“Wise words. Back then, a California Democrat was warning against a partisan takeover of the American electoral system. Today, it’s the distinguished Member of the House from San Francisco, Speaker Pelosi, who is now cheerleading for that very change. The Democratic Party has changed its views on this subject a lot in the last 45 years. But the purpose of the FEC has not changed one bit. And neither has the importance of the First Amendment.”

Related Issues: First Amendment