FEC puts Obama in a bind

by Kenneth P. Vogel

The Federal Election Commission has presented the Obama administration with the choice between standing behind President Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric or possibly threatening one of his pet causes – and maybe his reelection chances, not to mention highlighting his differences with his own lawyer, rumored to be under consideration for a top White House post.

For all this, Obama can thank the FEC, the independent panel charged with overseeing campaign cash, and its partisan vote last week not to appeal a sprawling federal court ruling that could uncork a new wave of election spending by outside groups that some predict would help Republicans compete with Obama’s fundraising juggernaut in 2012.

The ruling has presented the Obama administration with a tough choice: either go over the FEC’s head to appeal the ruling, which some experts caution could result in even wider money-in-politics loopholes, or let the decision stand in hopes of closing the new loophole in another case.

Letting it stand would draw the ire of Obama’s allies in the watchdog community, who are urging his administration to appeal the case, in which the Democratic powerhouse EMILY’s List successfully challenged FEC fundraising and spending limits as unconstitutional and over-reaching.

The watchdogs had high hopes for Obama, who has long cast himself as committed to reducing the power of special interest cash in politics, but are growing impatient with his perceived unwillingness to bolster campaign finance rules that have been diluted by a skeptical judiciary and divided FEC.

“It’s a challenging situation because the administration can’t finesse this: it has to make a decision one way or the other, and it’s going to make people unhappy one way or the other,” said Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman who advises Republican candidates and committees – including that of Minnesota Gov. (and possible 2012 presidential candidate) Tim Pawlenty – on election law issues.

“This is a big deal,” Toner said of the EMILY’s List case. “Whatever they do here is going to have significant consequences on the legal rules that will apply to the 2010 midterms and the 2012 presidential election.”

The article continues at Politico.com

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