The FEC has often been the subject of criticism since its founding four decades ago. But the impression of weakness has escalated dramatically, as Republicans named to the panel in 2008, united in the belief that the commission had been guilty of regulatory overreach, have moved to soften enforcement, block new rules, and limit oversight.
In essence, according to critics, the FEC has been rendered toothless, and at the worst possible time, when powerful special interests are freer than they have been in decades to exert financial influence on Washington politicians.
The commission is taking up far fewer enforcement cases — down to 135 in 2012, from 612 in 2007. And those cases it does consider often go nowhere. The frequency of deadlocked votes resulting in dismissed cases — like the case of the Romney friend’s chartered jet — has shot up, to 19 percent, from less than 1 percent, according to figures compiled by critics of its performance.
And there’s this:
The commission — which has 375 employees and a budget of $66 million — had been unable to make formal decisions for the previous six months: With four vacancies, it was down to just two members. Weintraub, a Harvard-educated lawyer who earned her Washington stripes as counsel for the House Ethics Committee, was ready to get to work.
“I was all excited when everyone showed up,’’ she said. “I sent them an e-mail saying, ‘Welcome. What can I do to help your transition? I’m happy to provide any information about how we do things. My door is always open.’ ”
Weintraub received no response, establishing what she described as a pattern of the Republicans keeping to themselves. Any substantive discussion takes place in formal meetings. She noticed that the GOP members and their staffers even went to lunch as a group, huddling in a knot in the elevator lobby.
Weintraub said she rarely has private conversations with McGahn, whose office is next door to hers.
“He in fact does not return my phone calls,’’ she said. “He never has.’’
UPDATE: I should have included McGahn’s reply on this:
McGahn bristles at Weintraub’s depiction, including about his phone manners. “She doesn’t call me,’’ he said. “She has my number. She never uses it.
“If she spent half as much time running the agency as she does attacking me, we might actually get something done.’’