Too Little and Too Late: Quorum To Be Reinstated at the FEC

Empty chairs at the Federal Election Commission
The Federal Election Commission. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has long called for a functioning Federal Election Commission (FEC), with commissioners who are committed to the fair and effective enforcement of campaign finance law. 

The FEC’s well-documented dysfunction has been exacerbated this election cycle by a lack of quorum, which prevented the agency from being able to fulfill its central regulatory and enforcement duties.

The President’s announcement, six days before Election Day that he intends to nominate two individuals to fill longstanding FEC vacancies, may ultimately lead to a long-overdue restoration of the agency’s quorum. But it is far too little and far too late. 

The current election cycle is on track to be the most expensive in our history, and yet throughout most of the past 14 months, the agency has been completely disabled from performing its duty to protect the voices of voters, not just special interests. The FEC is the only government agency whose sole responsibility is overseeing the integrity of our political campaigns. 

There is no excuse for Trump’s delay. The FEC has been short two commissioners since February 2018 and lost a third in August 2019. Yet the President failed to promptly fill those vacancies.

When he finally acted, he did so in a manner that disregarded the longstanding tradition of nominating a bipartisan pair of candidates. Instead, he nominated a single Republican candidate, Trey Trainor, who was confirmed earlier this year. 

Prior to Trainor’s nomination, Senate Democrats recommended that Trump nominate Shana Broussard. If Trump had nominated Broussard earlier this year, rather than in the final days of the 2020 election, she could have been considered and confirmed along with Trainor, and the FEC would have had a quorum during this crucial election cycle. 

The Senate should closely review the records of both Broussard and the other nominee, Sean Cooksey, to ensure that they’ll work to guarantee that the FEC does its job to protect the voices of all voters, not just special interests. 

The current structure of the FEC means that any three commissioners can paralyze the agency if they choose, and many commissioners have done just that. Over the last 10 years, three commissioners have used their power to prevent the agency from acting on most major violations.   

Congress has the power to restructure the FEC and the nomination process to safeguard the agency against divides that have produced an agency that fails to do its job to enforce campaign finance laws and protect the voices of voters. 

To reduce political corruption, we need a stronger FEC to enforce campaign finance laws and hold political candidates and officeholders accountable to the public.