Policy Analysis No. 42

The Federal Election Commission: A Case for Abolition

By Mary Meehan
October 23, 1984

Executive Summary

Expressing the frustration of many political activists, the 1984 Republican Party platform declares that “Congress should consider abolishing the Federal Election Commission.” The platform does not list all complaints about the commission, but it does note the basic constitutional problem associated with it: “Even well-intentioned restrictions on campaign activity stifle free speech and have a chilling effect on spontaneous political involvement by our citizens.” It also attacks the sheer complexity of the regulations the commission is supposed to enforce: “We deplore the growing labyrinth of bewildering regulations and obstacles which have increased the power of political professionals and discouraged the participation of average Americans.”[1]

The Republicans have performed a great service by raising the issue of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). There is also a sense in which the Democrats have performed a service by suffering so visibly from campaign regulation. Examples of this service are presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s difficulties with his delegate committees during the primaries and vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s tribulations in the aftermath of an FEC investigation of her 1978 congressional campaign.

It is now up to others to explain in detail what is wrong with the FEC and the law it enforces. This paper is offered as a contribution to the discussion. Many of its examples are taken from the 1984 campaign.

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Mary Meehan is a Washington-based journalist who has written widely on election laws.