Federal Election Commission Divided: Measuring Conflict in Commission Votes since 1990

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This article investigates conflict on the Federal Election Commission (FEC). A long literature has documented the polarization of elites in Congress, in state legislators, and among justices on the Supreme Court. Many assume also that polarization is present at FEC, the regulatory agency tasked with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws. The Commission has been characterized as toothless and ineffectual, but in recent years these charges have been coupled with claims that Republican commissioners have done more to sabotage enforcement than Democratic commissioners. This article advances these questions by using over 5,000 Commission votes to estimate ideal points for all commissioners since 1990. The evidence supports the claim that partisan conflict has come to characterize Commission voting patterns, with deadlocks on Commission actions skyrocketing in recent years. Attributing this entirely to ideology may not be warranted, but the evidence of a partisan divide at the Commission poses real problems for the agency in meeting its mandate to enforce the law and offer regulatory guidance.

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