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.