Coalition Urges White House, Senate to Restore FEC Quorum with Commissioners Committed to Enforcing Anti-Corruption Laws


Groups caution against nominating FEC Commissioners who would use position to prevent enforcement

WASHINGTON – Today, a coalition of good-government groups sent a letter calling on the President and U.S. Senate to restore the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voting quorum – but countering a call from private attorneys to confirm a “full slate” of six new FEC commissioners who would continue the FEC’s longstanding dysfunction. The letter from Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Public Citizen, Common Cause, Democracy 21, CREW, and 16 other organizations and individuals describes how the FEC’s problems preceded its recent absence of a quorum, resulting in an explosion of secret spending that has increasingly rigged our political system in favor of wealthy special interests. The letter urges the President and U.S. Senate “not to respond to the FEC’s lack of a quorum by nominating or confirming any FEC commissioner who would use that position to prevent enforcement of the law,” and notes that confirming commissioners opposed to election transparency “would hinder enforcement, not enable it.”

“To stop the explosion of secret election spending by wealthy special interests, the practice of nominating FEC Commissioners who carry water for those interests must end,” said Adav Noti, senior director and chief of staff at CLC, and former Associate General Counsel of the FEC. “The failure of the FEC is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington, and one of the most shameful. To ensure the 2020 elections are transparent and fair, the President and Senate must prioritize restoration of the FEC’s quorum, but that is no excuse to re-stock the FEC with yet another crop of commissioners who oppose campaign finance reform.”

“It is imperative to get the campaign finance cop back on the beat as this nation enters what promises to be the most expensive election in history, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “But it is just as important that we get a functional campaign finance cop on the beat. The FEC has long been rendered incapable of performing its mission by the appointment of commissioners opposed to the campaign finance laws. Immediately restore a quorum on the FEC, and then make the appointment of additional commissioners impartial and nonpartisan.”

“It is beyond belief that in this presidential year of enormous consequence, the nation’s campaign finance enforcement agency is defunct because it does not have enough commissioners for a quorum to take action to enforce the laws,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder and president of Democracy 21. “Responsibility for this indefensible state of affairs rests with two people: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who never met a campaign finance law he likes and who is stonewalling the appointment of the commissioners needed for the quorum necessary to act, and President Trump, who is taking his cues from McConnell and not sending any nominations to the Senate. The American people are owed serious enforcement of the nation’s campaign finance laws which have been enacted to prevent corruption. If McConnell and Trump continue to keep the FEC moribund, they will be the principal enablers of the criminal activity and corrupt practices that are likely to occur this year.”

“As we race headlong into what will undoubtedly be the most expensive election in our nation’s history, the American people deserve a functioning regulator willing to enforce and administer our federal campaign finance laws,” said Beth Rotman, director, money in politics & ethics program at Common Cause. “It would be reckless and irresponsible to leave the FEC without a quorum to act when Russia and other hostile foreign powers are working to sway our elections and record amounts of money will be flowing not only into congressional and presidential campaign coffers but also to outside groups including super PACs and dark money organizations. We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with our democracy, a quorum willing to enforce the law must be appointed and confirmed at the FEC.”

"Now is the time for Democratic and Republican lawmakers to put aside their political differences, and move forward with the FEC commissioner nominating process,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director CREW. “By shirking their responsibility to nominate and confirm FEC commissioners, the President and the Senate are allowing for campaign finance violations to continue unchecked, and for corrupt politicians and organizations to abuse the laws and system designed to ensure fair elections. Quick nomination and confirmation of commissioners committed to the campaign finance law enforcement mission of the FEC will help us start to get back on track." 

The FEC currently lacks the authority to pass rules, issue formal guidance to candidates, or punish lawbreakers. But the agency’s problems preceded its recent absence of a quorum. Those problems stem largely from the historical practice of nominating and confirming commissioners who are ideologically opposed to the mission of the agency and who intentionally leverage its structural deficiencies to undermine the laws it is charged with enforcing. Increasingly over the last decade, the FEC’s law-enforcement activity has been gutted frequently by deadlock on critical enforcement matters. The FEC’s own enforcement statistics show that of the enforcement matters the commissioners consider in their official meetings, a majority (approximately 50.6% since 2012) have at least one deadlock and fail to reach the four affirmative votes necessary to pursue the matter.

Voters have an overwhelmingly negative view of the campaign finance system, as they believe it is corrupt, filled with loopholes and rigged in favor of the wealthy, corporations and special interests. Recent polling released by CLC indicates 71% of voters want the FEC to take a more active role in enforcing campaign finance laws.