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February 8, 2016

If Santa Asked For A Gift, How Could You Refuse to Give?

Opinion Article:

A federal regulatory agency that investigates, prosecutes and judges whether certain candidates, PACs, and political party committees have been naughty or nice, is asking Congress for permission to accept gifts.

The Federal Election Commission yesterday approved a list of legislative recommendations to send to Congress. One of the recommendations was to seek Congressional permission to receive gifts and use them to facilitate transparency in federal campaign finance data. While disclosure is a good cause, the idea of asking for gifts to a federally funded regulatory agency is short-sighted and could do more harm than good.

If Congress permits these gifts, it may put those in the regulated community in an awkward position. It may be similar to Santa, or the Justice Department, or a judge asking for a gift. How can you say no? If you have been good, you may worry that if you don’t give, you might be moved to the ‘bad’ list. If you have been naughty, you might feel a gift would move you to the ‘good’ list. And like any good government agency, they’ll keep a list, and check it twice. Almost sounds like a member of Congress asking for a campaign contribution.

If you are Google (with a PAC that gives out more than $1 million a cycle), or Microsoft (with a PAC that gives out over $1.8 million a cycle)), what do you do? Of course, the easy answer is – you offer up a gift of technology or technological assistance. Who knows when your PAC or corporation may become involved in a compliance action, so you play it safe and give a gift now, that might help you out later.

And for those who don’t have technology to offer up, maybe they could make a cash gift for the agency to use in buying disclosure technology. Perhaps they will be listed on a new kind of FEC Major Donor list. If individuals couldn’t give, maybe they could use the new trendy route and funnel the funds through a non-profit organization.

Needless to say, the FEC Commissioners may cry, “We can’t be bought,” or “We’re above that.” But public officials have worn out that phrase. Accepting gifts wouldn’t prove corruption, but it is the appearance of corruption that is just as harmful. Advertising that gifts will be accepted is a call for a tribute to those who sit in judgement.

Beyond the appearance of corruption, the FEC could also be vulnerable to accepting gifts that may come with unknown attachments. If the China-based Huawei Technologies Ltd. offers information technology to the FEC, would it be accepted? There are enough questions about privacy, cyber security, and proprietary software to raise an alarm.

If the government really needs something, they should use their budget to pay for it. As the saying goes – you get what you pay for.

To search detailed money-in-politics databases, visit Political MoneyLine.

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