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Wheat from chaff: Third-party monitoring and FEC enforcement actions


Regulatory theory suggests that providing agencies with multiple sanctioning options allows them to dispose promptly of less serious matters and thereby conserve resources to pursue serious offenders. However, agencies dependent on third‐party monitoring may have their enforcement agendas skewed toward more trivial violations. We consider these competing expectations by analyzing enforcement actions at the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) from 1999 to 2004. The FEC – an agency heavily dependent on third‐party monitoring – expanded its enforcement options in 2000 by creating two new programs to pursue low‐level offenders, while leaving its monitoring strategy unchanged. We hypothesized that more sanctioning options would allow the FEC to allocate its resources more efficiently, and thus deal more effectively with the skew created by third‐party monitoring. We found instead that although the FEC disposed more promptly of low‐level infractions, it was no more effective at focusing on serious violations. Our results suggest that for many agencies, expanding enforcement options without addressing monitoring has limited ability to resolve enforcement problems.

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