This afternoon, in a speech at the Center for American Progress, Commissioner Ann Ravel, formerly of the Federal Election Commission (as of yesterday), gave her first speech as a private citizen since leaving the agency. Promising she will continue to speak out in support of all-encompassing campaign finance regulation, Ravel again proved that she suffers from a lack of integrity. It will likely be the last speech of hers to which I lend my ears.
Ravel, a Democratic appointee, comes off a tumultuous time at the FEC, a tumult for which she takes no responsibility. In her opening remarks this afternoon, Ravel argued that the ethical duties of attorneys were one reason the Republican commissioners—with whom she quit honestly engaging only “about a week” after arriving at the FEC—were obligated to agree with her about campaign finance law and enforcement.
More ominously, she charged these commissioners did not “uphold the highest professional and ethical values” as attorneys, claiming Republican commissioners cited cases or law in their arguments that “don’t exist” or stood for propositions different than those claimed. “They don’t cite the part that’s actually applicable to the matter,” she fumed. Not offering a single example of this, Ravel instead moved on to state the following:
I have to remind you—which was said in a public forum so I’m not speaking out of turn—[former Republican FEC Commissioner] Don McGahn actually said at one point, um, “I plead guilty as charged to,” quote, “not enforcing the law as Congress passed it.” I’ve seen [these] actions countless times.
Ironically, about a minute after appealing to the “highest professional and ethical values,” Ravel succumbed to this quote-as-canard that regulation proponents gleefully manipulated years ago. But there’s an important caveat, as Mike Beckel clarified in his reporting on McGahn’s statement:
“I’m not enforcing the law as Congress passed it,” McGahn boasted regarding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as McCain-Feingold after its chief congressional sponsors, in a keynote speech at a symposium at the University of Virginia Law School. “I plead guilty as charged.”
McGahn’s admission of “guilt,” however, came with a catch: He argued that it wasn’t his job to enforce this law as Congress passed it.
Instead, he said, the commission’s job was to enforce the law as it’s been upheld by the judicial branch of government.
“In a close call, the tie goes to the speaker, not the regulator,” he continued. “The court has said certain [portions of McCain-Feingold] are unconstitutional.”
McGahn’s position is correct, unlike Ravel’s dismissive excerpt, which she also quoted just as selectively in a report shortly before departing the FEC. When quoting this statement, Ravel would better serve our illustrious legal profession by citing “the part that’s actually applicable to the matter.”
One could counter this is nitpicky, but irony at the event went even deeper. In a panel discussion following Ravel’s remarks, Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center opined that “I think it’s fair to criticize a commissioner on their positions; that’s fair. But when you start personally attacking them, and personally threatening them, then I think it gets into dangerous ground.”
Well, does questioning one’s qualifications to practice law fit the bill? How about claiming fellow commissioners would be held in contempt if their arguments were made in court? Writing off fellow commissioners “about a week” into a years-long federal appointment? Claiming they are not independent appointees but are pawns of Senator Mitch McConnell? Taking to television and the papers to complain so often that even a top Democratic campaign finance attorney says it shows an “endless desire to be portrayed in the press as a profile in courage”? What’s left, bar complaints?
Though her rhetoric is par for the course in the campaign “reform” lobby, of which she is sure to become a feature, Ravel’s tenure was a stain on the Federal Election Commission. In the future, there will be many serious discussions and disagreements about campaign finance law. With the operative word being “serious,” I do not expect Ravel to play a part in any of them.
Goodbye, Commissioner Ravel.