FEC Complaint Against Bee Ad Certain To Languish

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by Michael Bryan

I am reminded by the Bee complaint (and legal eagles with whom I consult on these matters) that the FEC currently only has two members, which means it does not have a
quorum and cannot conduct any official business.

This is why the DNC
complaint against McCain for promising to take public funds to secure a multi-million-dollar loan and then exceeding the FEC
primary caps has not been acted on, either.  The appointments to the FEC are tied
up over a dispute between Republicans who want their entire slate of appointees approved in a single vote (because some of them are just too atrocious even for Republicans to be seen voting for), and
Democrats who want individual up or down votes on each nominee.

If this dispute is not resolved, the FEC will not be able to issue checks for public  financing of the fall campaign, and the FEC also will not be able to address the complaint against Bee (though it may be assigned to an investigative staff member).

Tim Bee’s campaign may have legal liability if there is evidence to show that his campaign coordinated this ad with the Educational Financial Reform Group (EFRG). Proof of such co-ordination could possibly be contained in the b-roll of the footage shot to produce the ad, which may be why Cox Communications and Public Policy Partners who created the ad have so far proven unwilling to release that material to the media. We’ll see if they are more cooperative with the FEC investigators when they demand access to that material. Wouldn’t it be convenient if that material were somehow destroyed or lost in an administrative SNAFU in the interim?

The fines, if any, against the EFRG and/or the school districts will likely not be too severe; probably 100-200% of the amount in violation ($16K, we know of so far). But in extreme cases, the fines can start with a base of $10K and add as much as 1000% of the amount in violation. So there are potential fines of approaching $200K involved, but such fines would not be applied to Bee’s campaign unless he coordinated with the maker of the ad.

There is also the issue of just who the heck the EFRG actually is. Who are it’s board of directors and officers? How are they organized and how do they report their activities? What is its budget and how is has it been spent? What is the organization’s charter and does it actually provide for lobbying expenditures? Who actually made the decision to spend public funds in this manner? There needs to be much more transparency about these questions if public funds are to be spent to influence public policy. So far, none of those questions have been answered to my satisfaction.

There are really two issues here, however: a legal issue, and a moral issue. 
It is not clear at this point whether the Bee campaign did anything legally wrong themselves. But it appears that the EFRG organization may have broken both federal and Arizona elections laws. Will they be held to account for it? Whoever ‘they’ may be?

But even if this instance of electioneering were perfectly legal, which I doubt, the school
districts’ spending district tax dollars in support of a candidate rather than on
the education of our children is just wrong. Considering the the base funding rate for a pupil in Arizona is just over $6K, a year’s worth of education for two children was spent on this silly "Thank You" to Bee.

1 COMMENT

  1. Micheal,

    Then why not ban public relations and public information officers from all branches of government?

    Your arguments on censorship aren’t relevant because we are not talking about inciting a riot, yelling fire in a crowded theater, or false advertising, we are talking about the most protected speech in the Constitution – political speech.

    For the record, I haven’t seen the ad but I think its cheesy and I think the puff peices on both candidates are lame. None of those two have laid out an agenda for bringing us peace and security around the world, keep our economy vibrant or energy.

    Also I am a public education opponent. I support tax credits, vouchers, charter and parochial schools and just assume close the schools and sell the land.

    But by your logic, Alexander Hamilton couldn’t defend his bank or the Treasury department or HHS could not release PSAs. Government has a right to tell others about its good work and its opinion on the matter from time to time even if it means cheesy ads for Bee, retarded quarter of million dollar franking campaigns for Gabby, glossy consumer advocacy pamphlets for Terry Goddard and $ 150,000 billboards for Janet.

    Not discussed is the talking points relationships between Scarpinato, you, CJ, Jennifer Crider & Yoni Cohen. Seems to be a lot of cooridnation between the Gabby campaign and her surrogates for whom she repudiated:

    “Asked about the issue, Giffords distanced herself from the DCCC action, saying, ‘I’m only being responsible for my own campaign.'” (scarpo)

  2. James, That’s pretty weak… I expect more of you than “Move on, nothing to see here.”

    There are certain forms of speech that we regulate for very good reasons. Yelling “Fire!” in a theater. Incitement to riot or other illegality. Untrue commercial speech (until recently, I suppose…). And public employees using public money to affect public policy. Are you telling me you wouldn’t be concerned if Gabby were the one in the ad, not Bee?

  3. Sirs,

    do you really think this is a big deal? You have done several stories about this, but considering the energy crisis, the economy, or our international prestige, should we consider the solutions of that both propose, than to piddle over essentially free speech issues?

  4. You are right Michael. There is no quorum.

    You are also right that this is also a legal issue which is why I am guessing the administrators and the teacher involved have sought legal help because they may have broken state law not Bee.

    The law is specific with using school funds for political purposes – separate from the FEC.

    I am not sure they have – I would suggest they do.