Market Failures, Government Failures, and Federal Election Law Failures
Much of modern mainstream economics focuses on “market failures” and ways government regulations and agencies can try to correct them. When Microsoft was believed to have too much market share, and Microsoft Explorer was the most popular browser, the Department of Justice accused Microsoft of violating antitrust law (as did E.U. regulators). Regulators insisted Microsoft separate Explorer from the Microsoft Windows operating system. Bill Gates was summoned to Federal court and ridiculed by DOJ lawyers. That was during the Clinton Administration.
Skeptics of federal agencies and antitrust laws argue that markets tend to correct themselves as firms with dominant market share tend toward complacency and entrepreneurs innovate and surprise established firms.
I remember telling high school students about the Clinton Administration’s campaign to separate Explorer from Windows. Students were surprised and far fewer used Explorer in 2008. One student claimed Explorer was best just for downloading Firefox. And that was before Google’s Chrome stormed the browser market.
Critics often claim private markets have failed or are in danger of failing. But if the sheriff is called in to deal with private firms profiting from market failures, who do we call when sheriffs fail? (The short answer is: Clint Eastwood.)
Which leads to the NCFCA topic of Federal election laws. A great many problems can arise in managing elections. Elections are run by local and state officials with help from volunteers, often associated with one political party or the other.
A friend of mine, Dan Klein, decided to vote for the first time in the 2000 Bush/Gore election. Dan registered in Santa Clara and was handed a ballot. But his ballot was already punched for Al Gore, so he asked for another ballot. The second was also punched for Al Gore. Dan’s third ballot was untampered with.
For election problems like these the federal sheriff can be called in, and that’s the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Unfortunately, like in Unforgiven, the sheriff enforces the law as he or she thinks the law should be, which can cause as much abuse as justice.
Kimberly Strassel in her July 11, 2013 WSJ op-ed, “Another IRS Scandal Waiting to Happen” looks at the less than unbiased Federal Election Commission (may be paywalled). Strassel notes that the sheriffs at the FEC are supposed to be insulated from political bias by “an equal number of Democratic and Republican commissioners, so neither side can easily impose a partisan agenda.”
… over the years staff have come to ignore the law, and routinely initiate their own inquiries—often on little more than accusations they find on blogs or Facebook. For a sense of how these investigations can go off the rails, consider that Lois Lerner—before serving as the center of today’s IRS scandal—was the senior enforcement officer at the FEC. A Christian Coalition lawyer has testified that during a (sanctioned) FEC investigation in the 1990s—in addition to generating endless subpoenas, depositions and document requests, Ms. Lerner’s staff demanded to know what Coalition members discussed at their prayer meetings and what churches they belonged to. Once staff gets rolling, there is little to stop them.
The fun part for NCFCA debaters may come as they find themselves hauled before the FEC to explain their affirmative cases. However, FEC staff will find debaters well prepared to defend the federal election law reforms they propose.