Ann Ravel officially left her job Tuesday as one of six members of the Federal Election Commission. She was one of three Democrats on the panel, which enforces election laws for federal candidates.
Ravel did not go quietly. She issued a blistering 25-page report, accusing the three Republicans on the commission of stonewalling investigations and enforcement actions in order to protect big-money donors and secret campaign contributions.
“Violators of the law are given a free pass,” Ravel wrote. “Candidates and committees are aware that they can ignore the laws enacted to protect the integrity of our elections.”
Republicans dismissed her complaints as the sour grapes of a leftist Democrat.
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The public should take the issues she raised more seriously.
Financing political campaigns remains a sordid affair in the United States, a riotous collision of secret money, political groups masquerading as nonprofits and confusing laws. All of us have a stake in this dysfunctional system: Money buys influence and shuts regular voters out of the decision-making process.
The FEC’s job is to curtail some of the most egregious abuses of the current system. But because its membership is evenly split, the commission usually deadlocks on big campaign finance issues, agreeing to pursue only modest fines against violators, sometimes years after a transgression.
As a result, as Ravel points out in her report, pursuing more significant campaign finance issues — including “social welfare” groups that are little more than laundromats for dark money — is nearly impossible.
The do-nothing approach isn’t limited to the FEC. In Kansas, the Governmental Ethics Commission stayed largely on the sidelines when a federal grand jury investigated donations to Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign in 2014.
In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave the state an “F” for ethics enforcement.
Missouri’s Ethics Commission isn’t much better: The state got a “D-” on ethics integrity from the center. When a dark money group gave Eric Greitens $2 million last year, the ethics commission found “no reasonable grounds” that accepting the secret money broke Missouri law.
To be clear: Democrats flout campaign laws, too. It’s a bipartisan habit.
President Donald Trump will appoint Ravel’s replacement at the FEC. He should look for a candidate who wants to make our elections transparent and fair.
America’s campaign finance system remains a muddled mess, and the failures of the commissions charged with enforcing the law are a big reason why.