Former Chairs of the Federal Election Commission Endorse the For the People Act’s FEC Reforms
Washington, D.C. – Today, Republican and Democratic former chairs of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Trevor Potter and Ann Ravel, submitted a letter of support for the FEC reform provisions in the For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) to congressional leaders. The failures of the FEC to protect the integrity of the federal campaign process by providing transparency and fairly enforcing campaign finance law, and the reforms needed to strengthen the agency are outlined in the letter from the former chairs, one appointed by former President George H. W. Bush and one appointed by former President Barack Obama.
The FEC is responsible for enforcing the laws that govern the U.S. campaign finance system for campaigns for president and Congress. It is the only government agency whose sole responsibility is overseeing the integrity of our political campaigns. Over the past decade, the FEC has routinely failed to enforce the law even when presented with clear violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The agency routinely deadlocks and fails to reach the required four votes necessary to open an investigation and enforce violations or update campaign finance regulations. At the same time, there has been an increase in candidates, parties and independent organizations that push the boundaries of the Federal Election Campaign Act, violating the law, and operating under the safe assumption that any punishment is unlikely to be enforced by the FEC.
“For the first three decades of its existence, the Commission performed its functions at least reasonably well,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center and Republican former chair of the FEC, “But since then, the FEC has grown deeply dysfunctional, and our democracy has suffered as a result. To fix the FEC, the For the People Act draws from the bipartisan Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act, which was introduced with Republican and Democratic co-sponsors in the last three sessions of Congress.”
Under current law, the FEC is led by six Commissioners nominated by the president, no more than three of whom can be from the same political party. The political custom is that nominees are recommended by party leaders in Congress. It takes a vote of four of those Commissioners to write new rules or take any substantive action. The current structure of the FEC means that any three Commissioners can paralyze the agency.
“As political spending increases and the online political advertising landscape becomes more complicated and in need of regulation, the very agency we need to ensure the health of our democracy is ineffectual,” said Ann. M. Ravel, Digital Deception Project Director at MapLight and Democratic former Chair of the FEC. “It’s time for Congress to help restore public trust in government and our elections by enacting meaningful changes to the FEC and passing the For the People Act.”
The For the People Act would restructure the FEC in three ways. It would change the number of Commissioners from six to five, with the requirement that no more than two Commissioners be members of the same political party; create a nonpartisan advisory panel to identify and recommend qualified nominees; and strengthen the enforcement process to prevent Commissioners from shutting down investigations at an early stage.
The FEC’s inaction has resulted in an explosion in secret spending and our politics increasingly rigged in favor of wealthy special interests. To reduce political corruption and protect the voices of voters in our democracy, we need a stronger FEC that will enforce campaign finance law. The For the People Act would fix the FEC.