The Federal Election Commission announced Monday a plan to toughen its enforcement but started by dismissing 137 cases on election misconduct because its staff is overworked and faces a huge backlog.
Among the closed cases were complaints involving George Bush's presidential campaign of 1988; Republican Sens. Alfonse D'Amato of New York and David Durenberger of Minnesota; savings and loan scandal figure Charles Keating; and Rep. Pat Danner, D-Mo., and her son, state Sen. Steve Danner, also a Democrat.
In many cases, some dating back more than seven years, the FEC acknowledged that it had found "reason to believe" violations occurred, but it took no action.
FEC Chairman Scott Thomas said the cases involved allegations of violations that occurred before 1990 or were considered by the agency staff as relatively "insignificant" because of the amount of campaign money involved and the effect on the election process.
Thomas said the weeding out of marginal cases was needed to allow the agency to concentrate on enforcing more significant cases. More than 300 cases are pending. The agency has a budget of $23.9 million and 276 employees, including 48 lawyers.
He said the agency planned "a sweeping new approach to enforcing the law," including routinely setting priorities to focus its limited resources on the most serious cases and steeper fines.
"We are going to put teeth into the enforcement of the law . …