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Last June, members of the Federal Election Commission sat down for the first of several rule makings to implement the new campaign finance law. The commissioners were arrayed around the dais by party. Democrats on one side; their Republican compatriots on the other. But as the meeting went on, Democratic Commissioner Karl Sandstrom made it clear again and again that while he sat with the Democrats, he wasn’t necessarily voting with them. “Certainly Commissioner [Scott] Thomas and I read the current law differently,” Sandstrom said of his Democratic colleague’s view. Sandstrom offered up, and in many cases got passed, pages of amendments to the proposed regulations. In Sandstrom’s view, he cleared up the law’s imprecision. According to many of the law’s supporters, he weakened it. “His impact will really be felt for years to come because of the rules,” says Larry Noble, former general counsel of the agency and now executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions. “Overall, I have to say he has had a negative impact on the commission. He consistently provided the fourth vote to read the law narrowly and to interpret it in such a way as to create new loopholes.” The FEC is a six-person board split evenly between the two parties. Four votes are needed for passage. Over and over, Sandstrom provided the crucial fourth vote on critical amendments and interpretations of the campaign finance reform regulations — many of them endorsed by Republican commissioners and rejected by Sandstrom’s fellow Democrats. “It should have been characterized as the first vote,” Sandstrom said in an interview recently. “Many of the proposals were my amendments.” Before joining the agency, Sandstrom, 52, spent years working for the Democrats in various positions, including at the Department of Labor and at the Committee on House Administration. He was appointed to the FEC four and a half years ago. Commissioners now serve single terms, so when his appointment expired last year he could not be renominated. But the White House kept him on long after his term’s expiration. It was not until after the commission dealt with the last major rule making that his successor — Ellen Weintraub — was given a recess appointment. Noble and others who support a broad reading of the law found Sandstrom’s votes galling. Throughout the year, the commission was under attack, and Sandstrom bore the brunt. He was a Democrat joining the Republicans, and he was a lame-duck appointee potentially helping shape regulations for years to come. The criticism appeared to bother him. During commission meetings he complained about the attacks. He followed the editorials and opinion columns in newspapers, writing responses to many of them. But it did not change his votes. “He was courageous,” says Jan Baran, an election lawyer with Wiley Rein & Fielding who is battling the law in court. “Whether you agree or disagree with him, he articulated a viewpoint and stuck with it — doing so in the face of withering and sometimes personal criticism.” Sandstrom’s last day on the commission was Dec. 6; he has not yet decided what his next career move will be. But he has no apologies for the philosophical approach he took to the rule making, or the interpretation of the law that he helped pass. “My two Democratic colleagues have placed greater reliance on the view expressed by the sponsors of the legislation,” says Sandstrom. “My obligation was not to that vision, but to providing a clearer picture to political participants of their obligation and to provide them with clear directions on how to comply with the law.”

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