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A Category 6 'Big Money' Hurricane Is Coming. But With FEC Gutted, the First Responders Aren’t.

We're facing now is a perfect storm of corruption and criminality on a scale that's almost impossible to fathom.

In this NASA handout image taken from aboard the International Space Station, shows Hurricane Florence as it travels west in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the U.S. on September 12, 2018.  (Photo: NASA via Getty Images)

In this NASA handout image taken from aboard the International Space Station, shows Hurricane Florence as it travels west in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the U.S. on September 12, 2018. (Photo: NASA via Getty Images)

A Category 6 hurricane of Big Money is barreling toward us in 2020, and now the nation’s first responders are unable to act.

On Tuesday, Federal Election Commission (FEC) Vice Chair Matthew Peterson announced his resignation at the end of the week, which will leave the agency without the quorum it needs to be able to police our nation’s campaign finance laws. By Saturday, only three members will remain on the six-member commission—meaning the FEC will no longer be able to meet, adopt rules and regulations, offer formal advice to candidates and committees, or enforce the law.

"The stakes couldn’t be higher. Whether you call it a democracy or a republic, our system of self-government is in existential danger from of a hurricane of Big Money spending."

As the nation heads into the 2020 cycle—an election that is expected to set an all-time record for both regulated and dark money political spending—we need a tough and vigilant watchdog in charge of monitoring and enforcing compliance with our campaign finance laws. But now that watchdog is effectively closed for business and won’t reopen until new commissioners are chosen and confirmed.

In ordinary times, Public Citizen would call on the president to nominate and the U.S. Senate to immediately confirm new commissioners to fill the vacant FEC positions, restoring the quorum and allowing the agency to act.

But who are we kidding? We already know they won’t.

President Donald Trump and many Senate Republicans—chief among them, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—are openly contemptuous of campaign finance limits or electioneering rules of any kind.

Republican politicians have shown time and again that they’re eager to lie, cheat, steal and rig elections to keep themselves and their party in power. Why would Trump or McConnell put a cop on the beat?

The few so called Republican “moderates” that remain won’t lift a finger either. The most we can expect is for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to wring her hands in a practiced display of feigned disappointment, like she always does.

When you step back and look at the big picture, what’s happening at the FEC is part of a long-term project by the right. For decades, anti-government extremists have tried to shut down watchdog agencies and put billionaires and big corporations in charge. Now they’ve succeeded.

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To paraphrase right-wing ringleader Grover Norquist, they’ve drowned the FEC in a bathtub.

What we’re facing now is a perfect storm of corruption and criminality on a scale that’s almost impossible to fathom. The 2020 elections are expected reach or even exceed $8 billion in political spending. And as of Saturday, not one penny of it will be subject to meaningful oversight.

The question is whether Senate Democrats, the press and the public will raise holy hell to put a campaign finance cop back on the beat. Or will they meekly acquiesce to yet another Republican scheme to shut down a vital public interest watchdog in government and rig the political system in their favor?

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Whether you call it a democracy or a republic, our system of self-government is in existential danger from of a hurricane of Big Money spending. Representative government cannot and will not survive wave after wave of barely regulated spending by multimillionaires, billionaires and giant corporations. In its wake will be an endless swamp of legalized corruption and bribery with self-serving autocratic cretins like Trump as king.

"We The People have a choice: We can allow ourselves to be victims of this disaster, or we can become first responders."

If we want a better future…if we ever want our government address the climate emergency, pass Medicare for All, end student debt, fight racism and sexism, and reduce inequality, we have to start by fighting for a political process and government that represents us.

That means revitalizing and empowering public interest watchdog agencies like the FEC, enacting tough anti-corruption laws and campaign finance regulations, overturning Citizens United—which opened the floodgates of corporate political spending—expanding democracy with legislation like H.R. 1, and electing leaders who’ll fight to roll back corporate power on behalf of regular workers, consumers and families.

We The People have a choice: We can allow ourselves to be victims of this disaster, or we can become first responders. Already, the skies are darkening, the winds are picking up and the waves are getting bigger. No one’s coming to save you.

Time to choose.

Craig Holman

Craig Holman, Ph.D., serves as Public Citizen's Capitol Hill lobbyist on ethics, lobbying and campaign finance rules. Craig is an expert on campaign finance reform, governmental ethics, lobbying practices and the impact of money in politics. Follow him on Twitter: @CBHolman

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