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January 18, 2007
Why Was This Story Written?

The Washington Post runs a story today trying to analyze the resignations of two FEC lawyers who just landed big-paying positions in the private sector. One might think the reasons for their departure are rather obvious and spelled out in dollar signs, but the Post writes this story as if it were the result of a conspiracy to choke off dissent and free speech at the FEC:

The announcement yesterday that the top two lawyers for the Federal Election Commission had resigned helped spread an undercurrent of concern about the diminishing role of a once-prominent public voice on the intersection of money and politics.

The stated reasons for the departures of FEC General Counsel Lawrence H. Norton and Deputy General Counsel James A. Kahl was that the two men had landed private-sector jobs at a large firm with offices in six states. Norton and Kahl, reached yesterday, said their resignations were not intended to send any broader message.

But those who monitor campaign finance law with some dedication said the departures coincided with a perceived shift in the way the commissioners have worked with the general counsel.

Matthew Mosk continues in this fashion for several paragraphs. He includes quotes from oversight groups and former FEC counsel, both of whom imply that the FEC has not just diminshed the standing of its lawyers but have done so in an attempt to politicize the commission. They use as an example an arcane point about using unlimited funds for recount drives, which Norton publicly opposed in 2004 but didn't in 2006, when the FEC allowed it.

However, when readers get to the bottom of the article, they discover that Mosk misled them in the second paragraph. It turns out that Norton and Kahl said a lot more about the Post's concerns than just rejecting the notion that their departures were intended to send a message:

"I'm not shocked people would read that into our decision, but it has nothing to do with it," Kahl said. He and Norton said they are leaving together to give the firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice a sizeable footprint in the fast-changing area of campaign finance law.

"I've had as free a hand as ever to give the commission unvarnished advice," Norton said. "I have had ample authority, all the authority I need."

In other words, the two men who left the commission and whose departures Mosk wants us to believe signals a silencing of dissent and free speech at the FEC specifically told him that there's no story here. They left to make more money working on campaign finance law for candidates, and nothing more. They did not feel oppressed or silenced, just underpaid. This entire article is pointless; it reads like a template for conspiracy theorists that accidentally made it to print.

Perhaps Mosk would like to take on the real silencing of dissent and muting of free speech at the FEC: McCain-Feingold.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 18, 2007 6:16 AM

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