“With a Democrat’s Help, the F.E.C. Goes From Deadlock to Deregulation”

There’s a lot to drive discussion in this NYT piece on the FEC and Commissioner Lindenbaum’s role in a recent series of votes.  (Disclosure: I was serving at the White House when Commissioner Lindenbaum was nominated.)

I haven’t had the chance to dig into the substance of the specific rulings highlighted in the piece, including the recent advisory opinions (and including the important AO on canvassing and coordination that Ned and Rick flagged a little over a month ago).  I tend to think that some of the critique of commission action and inaction is sometimes directed at the desire to change laws or regs rather than working with what the regs actually say, and I’d want to actually read the underlying legal materials before opining on the policy decisions.

The piece does highlight that “Ms. Lindenbaum’s work in the trenches of campaigns, where lawyers sort through the law’s gray areas to decide what can and cannot be done, that her supporters and detractors alike say has informed her thinking.”  And I agree with the profoundly informative nature of that experience.

The piece also highlights Marc Elias’s role in the series of recent votes: “One surprising thread through many of Ms. Lindenbaum’s most consequential decisions is that they were sought by Mr. Elias, who has become the face of voting-rights litigation on the left.”  But I think that thread may only be surprising if you’re the type to anoint someone as the “face of voting-rights litigation” for a diverse and hazily defined coalition of millions of voters with a whole lot of distinct voting-rights interests.  (The unrelenting focus of American political reporting on branding star personalities is not the only way to understand policy decisions or present narrative.)  Lawyers bring matters forward for a lot of reasons, including the interests of their clients and/or funders.

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