Appointing Pro-Enforcement Commissioners to the FEC Should be a White House Priority

June 19, 2018

A story in The Washington Post yesterday showed how little President Trump has done to fulfill his campaign promise to drain the swamp. He does have a unique opportunity to fix the system he has called broken by nominating six new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), both Republican and Democrat, who are all committed to the mission of the agency. Doing so would help limit the power of big donors and special interests that Trump railed against on the campaign trail. The FEC has long been paralyzed by partisan gridlock and is often overlooked by the White House. But by nominating commissioners who will faithfully administer the laws limiting money’s influence on politics, Trump could signal that he wants to restore integrity to our democracy and is serious about draining the swamp.

Now is the time. The remaining four commissioners at the FEC are serving on expired terms, down from its full slate of six. Unanimous votes will now be required to take any action, such as passing rules or punishing lawbreakers. If one more commissioner steps down, the FEC would lose the authority to take official action.

Consequences of losing the FEC

The public often thinks Citizens United is the sole cause of our broken campaign finance system. Yet the FEC shares a lot of the blame, and its role in helping break this system is often overlooked. For example, the FEC’s narrow interpretation of Congress’ transparency laws, its failure to craft new disclosure rules, and its refusal to enforce the laws already on the books has allowed hundreds of millions of dark money – which could hide foreign funds – into our elections. Moreover, candidates and political operatives from both parties are increasingly pushing the legal envelope with the expectation that the FEC won’t penalize them for their violations.

One would think that these trends in money in politics would bother an officeholder, who as a candidate blasted the influence of wealthy donors, criticized opponents for skirting limits on coordinating with the super PACs, and said he would overhaul the “rigged campaign finance system.” Trump can change this by prioritizing the appointment of new commissioners to the FEC that are committed to upholding our nation’s election laws.

Further reading on this issue:

Corey handles press relations for the CLC team and creates online content.