Fed up with "stonewalling" by the White House, a coalition of 10 government watchdog groups today publicly took President Obama to task for what they called an unfulfilled 2008 promise to bring greater accountability to the nation's campaign finance system.
The groups are demanding that Obama shake up the board of commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, the only agency able to enforce campaign laws. They say political divisions among the agency's panel of six leaders have rendered it toothless.
"The bottom line is nothing can happen to change the commission unless the White House names new commissioners, and they are refusing to do so," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan advocacy group. "The result is going to be an election with no enforcement."
Members of the coalition, which include leaders of the League of Women Voters, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Campaign Legal Center, say they've grown exasperated at the muted response of administration officials to their repeated letters, phone calls and in-person pleas since 2009.
"We have a full conversation with them, and they smile sweetly and they express understanding of our point of view. And nothing happens," said Lloyd Leonard, advocacy director for the League of Women Voters. "This seems to be rope-a-dope from the administration… They are very consistent at not responding and failing to provide any reasons for their failure to move ahead."
"We're tired of having fee-good meetings with the White House with no real results," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW. "The White House says 'we hear you.' We're looking for a little more than being heard."
Today the groups launched a petition drive to try and leverage public opinion for a more robust response. If they receive at least 25,000 signatures on the document posted on the White House's "We the People" portal, the administration has said it would give an official response.
Several watchdogs said today they want Obama to pick a fight with Senate Republicans, making new appointments to the FEC in the same way he did for the Consumer Financial Protection Board and National Labor Relations Board - a fight they say could help him appeal to voters in 2012.
Obama said "that these agencies [CFPB and NLRB] literally could not function unless the appointments were made," said Wertheimer. "I submit the FEC is in the same position. This agency cannot function on the things that matter under the current conditions. "
"If we can encourage Obama to offer nominations to replace the expired commissioners, it is going to turn into a fight then between the White House and Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Senate," said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. "But Obama should clearly depict McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate as trying to hold back transparency and this is the battle that would do it."
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.