I recently won a small wager with a lawyer friend. The proposition was fairly simply: I bet that at least 200 PACs would fail to meet the deadline to amend their registrations with the Federal Election Commission.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) of 2007 required most “bundler” PACs (real or potential) to change their FEC registration. With 4,600 federal PACs out there, I figured the odds were good that 200 losers would drop the ball.

I won the bet—it wasn’t even close. Over 1,000 PACs missed the deadline. The most cynical of Washington’s pundits would never have guessed that so many groups would screw-up on something so simple.

As a professor, I have already heard most of the really good excuses for missed assignments and deadlines. “The dog ate my homework” or I was abducted by aliens from outer space,” are passé and always amusing.

But this is simply nuts! HLOGA was passed in 2007. It was clear from the time of its enactment that lobbyists and their PACs would have additional reporting requirements. The FEC spent months devising rules to implement the bundling parts of the law. The whole process was open and their decision was widely reported. In December, 2008 the FEC issued preliminary rules. They made it very clear that PACs would have to amend their registration to reflect the fact that they 1) had a PAC and 2) had registered lobbyists. The new forms were issued a few weeks before the deadline at the end of March. The campaign finance lawyers were all over the issue, advising clients on what they needed to do. The PACs simply had to check one additional box on the form, sign the document and send it in. Is anyone awake here?

Some of the excuses I’ve heard make my students look like creative geniuses. “I forgot,” or “we weren’t aware” or “the lawyers are still looking at it”—simply dim-witted. At least find some more imaginative explanations.

In a moment of disillusionment, I once suggested that most of what passes for PAC management is the political equivalent of medical malpractice. Regrettably, this may be more accurate than even I imagined.


Steven Billet is the Director of the Masters in Legislative Affairs and the Chief of Staff at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. He can be reached at sbillet@gwu.edu.