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03/05/98- Updated 06:07 PM ET

FEC says it needs more money

WASHINGTON - Everyone at Thursday's House subcommittee hearing agreed that the Federal Election Commission wasn't doing its job - even the FEC officials who testified.

Where the speakers differed was over what to do about it.

Commission officials told the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee that they didn't have enough money to properly enforce campaign finance laws, or go after candidates who break them.

In 1997, the commission dismissed 41% of the 508 cases brought before it because it didn't have the time nor the resources to investigate them.

"A large part of the problem is that the agency has been operating without the resources necessary to accomplish its task," said FEC General Counsel Lawrence M. Noble.

Others - including some who the FEC supervises - said there was plenty the commission could do with the money it already has.

"Congress has provided substantial funding to the FEC for computerization and automation," said Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., who chaired the hearing. "All of this funding was meant to promote speedy disclosure. Unfortunately, the FEC has been slow to implement these initiatives."

Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., has introduced legislation that would require campaigns to file their campaign finance reports electronically. The bill would also require the FEC to post that information on the Internet.

White argues the changes would make it easier for the FEC to enforce the law, because it could electronically search the filings rather than wade through thousands of pages of paper.

Kent Cooper, who spent 22 years at the FEC before becoming executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the commission should immediately send software to congressional campaigns so they can start filing electronically. He also suggested the FEC post a fill-in-the-blank form on its web site.

Still, while the FEC has 24 investigators to check every presidential and congressional campaign, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee employed 35 investigators just for its probe of the 1996 Democratic fund-raising abuses.

And Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said that while the Senate and House probes into the 1996 fund raising allegations cost $7 million, the FEC's entire budget for investigations is $6.5 million.

She said Congress deserves some of the blame for failing to give the FEC the money it needs.

"All the while they're holding the purse strings so tightly behind their backs, they openly criticize the agency for not doing its job," Maloney said.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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