News Releases, Media
For Immediate Release: Contact: Ron Harris March 19, 1998 Sharon Snyder Ian Stirton Kelly Huff
WASHINGTON-Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Scott Thomas told a House subcommittee today that the agency needs an FY'99 budget of $36.5 million and some 360 staff members to deal with a workload triggered by an increasing enforcement caseload.
In prepared remarks today to the House Appropriations' Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government, Thomas said, "Our main message is simple: we need more staff to do a better job of ensuring compliance with existing laws."
The FEC's present (FY'98) budget is $31.6 million with 313 staff members. Thomas, chairman of the FEC's Finance Committee, conceded the FY'99 request "amounts to a significant increase, percentage-wise, but we believe it is well justified."
He continued, "This Committee has heard this argument before. In recent years, however, the Committee has urged the FEC to use funding increases to improve its technology, not add staff. We understand the desire to use computerization to improve efficiency. Indeed, we agree with that approach and have been following it for years. This year, however, we hope to persuade you that it is imperative to have both modern technology and more staff if the laws on the books are to mean anything. Without adequate staff to enforce existing disclosure requirements and contribution restrictions, reliable disclosure will fade, and contributions of any amount from any source may become the norm."
Thomas continued, "Almost everybody engaged in the campaign finance debate believes too many players have strayed from the fundamental rules of the game. While most members of the regulated community continue to make every effort to comply with the law, there are credible allegations that several political players may have gone well out of bounds. Few believe that voluntary compliance is as prevalent as it used to be. Part of the problem seems to be a growing awareness that the Federal Election Commission simply cannot handle all of the enforcement cases placed in its lap."
The FEC had 162 active cases on its enforcement docket as of March 2, Thomas cited, with 1,599 respondents therein, but the agency could assign the equivalent of only 24 FEC attorneys to those cases. Counting the supervisory, line, and support staff from all divisions for all compliance-related functions, the FEC can apply only about 90 employees to those functions.
"By comparison," Thomas said, "the Department of Justice reportedly has assigned some 125 staff in its investigation of the possible criminal transgressions covering just a portion of the matters that are also before the FEC. That is why the FEC is seeking an additional 37 FTE [staff] for its compliance component in FY'99."
Returning to the burgeoning number of respondents in the enforcement cases, Thomas noted that in FY'95 and in FY'97 the FEC had an average monthly caseload of 319 pending cases. But the number of respondents involved in those pending cases grew from 1,636 in 1995 to 2,039 in 1997, an increase of almost 25 percent in two years.
"We do not think this is an anomaly; it is indicative of a long-term trend," the FEC Vice Chairman told the House panel, adding, "The effect on our caseload is exponential. More respondents mean more investigation, more discovery, more documents, more depositions, and negotiations with more parties to attempt to bring the case to a successful conclusion. By way of illustration, five of our largest current cases involve a total of 222 respondents, will generate an estimated 2,150,000 pages of documents, and require the assignment of 32 staff."
Thomas also noted that the "legal landscape has become more complex over the years," citing court decisions that have made resolution of enforcement cases much more staff-intensive for the FEC. For example, he said, the FEC now finds itself having to investigate whether party committees actually coordinated their activity with their own candidates as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in the Colorado Republican Party case.
The FEC Vice Chairman concluded his prepared remarks by saying, "The heart of our request is a plea to beef up our compliance program. While this Committee has been reluctant to allow staffing increases the last several years, we believe the time has come to, in essence, put more cops on the beat."