Let the FEC Handle Candidates' Military Records

To coincide with The Atlantic's July/August "Ideas Issue," out today--if you don't already subscribe to the print magazine, please do--we're running a special "Ideas Report" on the website, which will feature daily contributions from Atlantic writers. Today's contribution comes courtesy of....me. Here's my idea:

Enough with the phony war records, politicians. I'm talking to you Dick Blumenthal, and you, too, Mark Kirk. They're not the first to concoct valorous deeds performed on the battlefield, use them to propel a political campaign, and then get exposed and embarrassed. But their example is reason enough to make one simple change to election law that would end this charade: have candidates submit their military records to the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC was established as an independent regulatory body in 1975 and it already collects financial information, and investigates and audits campaigns. So collecting and vetting military records would hardly be a stretch. Actual investigations of claims like Blumenthal's and Kirk's would probably be exceedingly rare and mostly unnecessary, as the very fact of FEC oversight would discourage politicians from making such exaggerations in the first place. Knowing that someone was watching, and that lying about your war record was as quick and easy to expose as an illegal campaign contribution, you'd have to be reckless or insane to do it.

And what about those politicians who've been lying for years? Well, if they have ambitions for a political future, they'll have to 'fess up quickly. This will have the corollary benefit of getting any admissions out of the way early, so campaigns can be about actual issues. Maybe the scandal-hungry press will actually cover those issues. And maybe we'll be spared the unctuous sanctimony that disgraced politicians like Kirk and Blumenthal resort to when exposed--corralling the local VFW for a photo op, wrapping themselves in the flag, and whining that their military service is being "denigrated." It would be a better world for everybody.

Got a better idea? Submit it to our editors here, we're eager to hear it.