FEC Fines Kerry-Edwards Campaign $1.3 Million

The Federal Election Commission has fined the Kerry-Edwards campaign over $1.3 million dollars for exceeding federal spending limits by about that much in the 2004 campaign. The Kerry-Edwards team plans to appeal and challenges the FEC’s calculations, which are based on some arcane accounting of the value of various donated services.

I have no real opinion on the facts of the case and doubt that the campaign did anything particularly egregious or different from what the Bush-Cheney team did. This does demonstrate, however, yet again, the worthlessness of the FEC as an enforcement mechanism and the silliness of campaign finance laws more generally.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the FEC is right here. Let’s further posit a scenario where Kerry had received a few thousand more votes in Ohio and been elected president by a slim margin in the Electoral College. Would the election results therefore be overturned? Of course not. In that case, a $1.3 million fine would be a perfectly acceptable cost for gaining the slight advantage needed to win the presidency.

What, then, is the point?

The election in question was decided two and a half years ago. We’re well into the next presidential campaign cycle. If the FEC can not investigate and punish in real time, we might as well scrap it.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Christopher says:

    Wow, James! You are surprised that it takes a govt. agency years to investigate something? Welcome to America!

    And you say that they weren’t “different from what the Bush-Cheney team did”. Did Bush-Cheney get fined $1.3 million? And how come you don’t think that is a significant fine? It is huge!!!

  2. I am also having a hard time following the argument:

    – Everyone else must do it (although there are no facts to support this), so it must be ignored

    – The government took a long time to investigate it, so it must be ignored

    – If the outcome of the rule breaking were different, the penalty would be the same, so it must be ignored

    – The penalty seems too low relative to the potential gain from the illicit activity, so it must be ignored

    So can I apply these any rules?

  3. Bithead says:

    This whole scenario would seem to lend argument to those opposed to McCain/Feingold as a whole.

  4. Christopher/Mitch:

    James’ point is, I think, that in terms of curtailing the behavior that the fine is supposed to be targeting, this is a worthless process.

    This won’t curtail future bad behavior by the Kerry-Edwards campaign as it no longer exists and will never exist again (at least not as an office-seeking entity).

    Further, since no individual will pay the fine, the “campaign” will, exactly what kind of disincentive is being created here?

    This ultimately doesn’t mean anything to anyone of consequence, hence the rules are not accomplishing their stated goal raising the legitimate question of what the point is supposed to be.

    Further, given the arcane accounting used in these cases, it is unclear that a given campaign could find the error in time to correct it.

    The whole thing is a waste of time and money.