In both the USA and Britain, fair elections are under threat

In the United States, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) was formed in 1974 after the Watergate scandal to enforce the country’s new election spending laws and the campaign finance abuses of the presidential race two years earlier. The bipartisan, independent agency was designed to investigate potential cases of illegal campaign spending, issue advisory opinions where the law is unclear, administer public funding for presidential campaigns and disclose campaign finance data to the public.

The establishing statute calls for six commissioners – no more than three from the same party – who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for six-year terms. But incredibly the FEC currently has only three members and a quorum of four is needed to have meetings and make decisions. It is unlikely that the Senate will confirm a fourth member before the November election (the president’s last nominee waited nearly three years for a Senate vote).

More information here.

In Britain, the Electoral Commission – established in 2001 –  regulates party and election finance and sets standards for how elections should be run. Among other things, it regulates political donations, spending and other areas, and has the power to undertake its own investigations, and fine parties and officials for breaches of the rules. The government’s advisory body the Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently holding a review of electoral regulation.

In a submission to the process, the Conservative Party has said the Commission should not be given new powers of prosecution, saying this would bring “too many conflicts of interest”. Instead the Party’s co-chair has argued that the body should accept more outside scrutiny or be disbanded: “If the Electoral Commission fails to make these changes and do the job it was set up to do then the only option would be to abolish it.”

More information here.

Too many people, think of democracy in bipolar terms: either a country is democratic or it is not. In fact, nations sit on a spectrum from totally democratic to totally authoritarian and frequently move along that spectrum. Both the USA and the UK are democracies but flawed ones and, in each case, recent developments have seen them become less democratic.

I have written an essay on “How To Critique a Political System”.


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