Quid Pro Quorum: FEC’s Coma

Editors’ Note: Excerpted from The Center for Public Integrity, September 11, 2019.  Deconstruction of the federal government has been not a covert policy of the current administration. No more pertinent independent agency has been kneecapped and prevented from exercising the role designed for it by Congress than the Federal Election Commission. A president’s attorney is serving a prison sentence in part due to campaign finance violations and an impeachment inquiry is reviewing a similar potential. The latest revelation of evidence of foreign money being directly contributed to a presidential PAC increases the necessity for a functioning FEC.

By Dave Levinthal

Image result for FEC ImpasseOn September 12, the Federal Election Commission was supposed to meet in public session.

It didn’t. That’s because the FEC no longer has enough commissioners to conduct high-level business, including a most fundamental responsibility: enforcing campaign finance laws so politicos don’t cheat voters.

The U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump could easily appoint new commissioners to the FEC and soon end the agency’s involuntary trip through limbo, which has now entered its second week.

Restart ingredients are certainly present: Senate Democrats have recommended Shana Broussard, an attorney and executive assistant to longtime Commissioner Steven Walther, to Trump for nomination, three sources familiar with the FEC nominating process confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity.

Broussard, if nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, would become the first African American to serve on the six-member FEC, which today only has three commissioners — one short of a needed quorum.  Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Senate could at any moment consider Trump’s lone FEC nominee to date, Texas attorney Trey Trainor, who’s languished for nearly two years without even a confirmation hearing.  The hang-up, perhaps predictably? Disagreement among Senate Republicans and Democrats, as well as the White House, on how to proceed.

Consider that the three remaining FEC commissioners — Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, D; Commissioner Caroline Hunter, R; and Walther, an independent — collectively have served 29 years past the expiration of their six-year terms. The FEC’s three other commissioner slots are vacant following the resignation Sept. 1 of Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican. 

These final three are allowed to indefinitely occupy their commissioner seats until a president offers new nominees to replace them, something presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump each has failed to do, at least in part. 

But, “there is an ongoing effort to fill all six FEC commissioner seats,” said a Republican Senate staffer familiar with the FEC nomination process, who declined to be named in order to speak candidly. “To do that though, Sen. [Chuck] Schumer and Senate Democrats must replace the two longtime Democratic holdovers. A clean slate of members will go a long way toward fixing some of the perceived dysfunction at the commission.”

Some key congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for what would likely be a speedier, if less sweeping solution.

“I hope the Senate will consider a bipartisan pair of nominees, as it has in the past, to restore a quorum,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the FEC, told Public Integrity. She plans to conduct an FEC oversight hearing — the first since 2011 — later this year.   



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