George Will

What if the country held an election and there was no one to make sure that candidates played by the rules -- no agency that could issue regulations, write advisory opinions or bring enforcement actions against those breaking the law?

-- The Washington Post, editorially alarmed.

WASHINGTON -- The Post, dismayed by the prospect, in effect asks: What if we had deregulated politics -- including the sort of presidential campaigns that produced 33 presidents (including some pretty good ones -- Lincoln, TR, the sainted Coolidge, FDR, Truman, Ike) before the Federal Election Commission was created in 1975? Most of the rules, the possible nonenforcement of which has the Post in a swivet, are constitutionally dubious abridgements of freedom of speech and association, so sensible citizens should rejoice about the current disarray of the FEC.

The six-person FEC -- three members from each party -- enforces the rules it writes about how Americans are permitted to participate in politics. You thought the First Amendment said enough about that participation? Silly you.

The FEC's policing powers may soon be splendidly paralyzed. Three current FEC members, two Democrats and one Republican, are recess appointees whose terms will end in a few days when this session of Congress ends -- unless they are confirmed to full six-year terms.

Four Senate Democrats decided to block the Republican, Hans von Spakovsky. Republicans have responded: "All three or none." If this standoff persists until Congress adjourns, the three recess appointments will expire and the FEC will have just two members -- a Republican vacancy has existed since April. If so, because four votes are required for all official actions, the commission will be prohibited from such actions including the disbursement of funds for presidential candidates seeking taxpayer financing.

Democrats oppose von Spakovsky partly because when he served in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department he overruled staffers in the Voting Section who wanted to block a Georgia law requiring voters to present a government-issued ID before voting, as Americans do before boarding an airplane, entering many buildings, renting movies, etc. Von Spakovsky's critics say the law is a way of suppressing voting by poor, mostly minority, citizens. Eighty percent of Americans -- racists all? -- favor such laws. The Supreme Court probably will settle the issue in a case concerning Indiana's voter ID law.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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