Harry Reid Free to Break Law, says Regulatory Agency

<p>Sen. Harry Reid, pictured here at a 2009 event, may break campaign finance law after retirement / Center for American Progress, Flickr (CC)</p>


Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has withdrawn his request for opinion from the Federal Election Commission on whether he can use campaign contributions to fund his post-retirement activities, highlighting once again the dysfunction of Washington’s most notoriously broken agency.

A quick recap: federal regulations bar spending money raised for campaigns or political action committees for personal use. Sen. Reid claims he needs access to the cash to pay for book research, a personal assistant and other administrative costs. The FEC was thus asked by Reid and his lawyer, Marc Elias, to rule on whether such use was appropriate.

In what has become routine, the commissioners were unable to come to a consensus on the matter.

The Democratic commissioners deferred to Reid, insisting he should be able to use campaign contributions for non-campaign work because of the nature of the former Senate Majority leader’s long career. The Republicans, led by Commissioner Lee Goodman, disagreed, calling the plan, “an administrative slush fund.”

Last week, Elias sent a letter to the commission withdrawing the request, stating it was “impossible” for approval to occur.

Due to the inaction, according to the letter, the Senator would “simply proceed in accordance with past advisory opinions on this subject.” Which is to say, because the FEC issued no guidance, Sen. Reid is free to potentially flout federal law.

On matters from what constitutes coordination between super PACs and campaigns to whether foreign nationals can donate to ballot initiatives, the FEC has failed to issue rulings, rewriting and undoing campaign finance law through inaction. This latest failure should stand as another example for why we need to fundamentally reform this agency so everyone is held accountable.