Critics of campaign finance enforcement, or the lack of it, continue to be infuriated by the FEC’s record of deadlocks in major cases, and they are further troubled by the obstacles to judicial review. When complainants stymied by deadlock appeal to the courts, they must still overcome the “deference” generally granted to the agency’s expertise, except where the law is clear or the agency is acting arbitrarily. In these cases, the courts review the agency’s action by examining the stated position of the Commissioners voting against enforcement. This is the so-called “controlling group” of Commissioners—the ones whose refusal to authorize enforcement controlled the outcome. Two FEC Commissioners, Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub, now argue that this is all wrong, and have called for the courts to reconsider the process by which deadlock decisions are reviewed. They want an end to the “controlling group” analysis; the courts, the Commissioners contend, should review deadlocks on a de novo basis. So if the FEC dismisses a complaint because the Commissioners cannot agree on what sort of an organization constitutes a regulated “political committee,” the court would take it from there—disregarding the Commissioners’ disagreement and proceeding to judge the issue from scratch.
National: Few Tricks, Some Treats as Two New FEC Commissioners Start Work on Halloween | In the Arena
For the first time since January, the Federal Election Commission held a meeting at which a majority of six Commissioners agreed on an advisory opinion. At its public meeting today, the Commission welcomed Lee Goodman and Ann Ravel to its ranks. Commissioner Goodman came from a private practice in which he represented Republican candidates and officeholders, among other clients. As the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Commissioner Ravel made waves last week with the announcement of a million-dollar settlement with two conservative nonprofits that failed to disclose the sources of funds spent on state ballot initiative campaigns. In opening statements, the two new Commissioners found common ground on two subjects: they both expressed appreciation of the FEC’s staff, and a desire to achieve consensus on issues facing the agency. Commissioner Goodman added, though, that the FEC is a “complicated agency” where First Amendment and regulatory concerns must be carefully balanced.
A secretive nonprofit group with ties to the billionaire conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch admitted to improperly failing to disclose more than $15 million in contributions it funneled into state referendum battles in California, state officials there announced Thursday. The group, the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights, is one of the largest political nonprofits in the country, serving as a conduit for tens of millions of dollars in political spending, much of it raised by the Kochs and their political operation and spent by other nonprofits active in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The settlement, announced by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris of California and the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforce California’s campaign finance laws, includes one of the largest penalties ever assessed on a political group for failing to disclose donations. The center and another Arizona group involved in the transactions, Americans for Responsible Leadership, will pay a $1 million fine, while two California groups must turn over $15 million in contributions they received.
The Senate on Monday confirmed President Barack Obama’s two nominees to the Federal Election Commission, giving the panel its first new members since the George W. Bush administration. Democrat Ann Ravel and Republican Lee Goodman were approved by unanimous consent in a brief voice vote on the Senate floor. The commission — a six-member panel that regulates political spending on campaigns and elections — has been operating with just five commissioners since the spring when chairwoman Cynthia Bauerly departed for the private sector. Last week, Bauerly’s successor as chair Donald McGahn also left the commission to return to practicing law at Patton Boggs.
Under new rules approved Thursday, the state hopes to help Californians determine whether political material they read online is a writer’s own opinion or propaganda paid for by a campaign. Campaigns will now have to report when they pay people to post praise or criticism of candidates and ballot measures on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other websites. ”The public is entitled to know who is paying for campaigns and campaign opinions,” so voters can better evaluate what they see on blogs and elsewhere online, said Ann Ravel, who chairs the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Open-government groups endorsed the new rules, which govern “favorable or unfavorable” content — although much of the time that information may come weeks or even months after publication. Bloggers and some others say the rules infringe on free speech. The regulations require disclosure by campaigns that pay someone $500 or more to post positive or negative content on Internet sites not run by the campaigns. In periodic spending reports required by the state, the campaigns would have to identify who was paid, how much and to which website or URL the posting was made.
President Barack Obama’s two nominees to the Federal Election Commission — an agency rife with ideological discord and often gridlocked on key issues before it – today won unanimous approval from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The nominations of Republican Lee E. Goodman and Democrat Ann Ravel now move to the full Senate, which must confirm Goodman and Ravel before they’re appointed to the FEC. The Rules Committee had originally scheduled a nomination vote for Monday but delayed it because it failed to reach a quorum. ”The Commission is designed to play a critical role in our campaign finance system,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Rules Committee chairman, said in a statement. “It is my hope that, once confirmed, Mr. Goodman and Ms. Ravel will work hard to restore the agency to a fully functioning independent federal watchdog for the nation’s campaign finance laws.”
President Barack Obama’s two nominees to the Federal Election Commission must wait a little longer for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to vote on their nominations. Only Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., appeared at this morning’s scheduled meeting, announcing that the committee had failed to reach a quorum, and therefore, couldn’t conduct a vote. But Schumer, the committee’s chairman, added during brief remarks that a vote on the FEC nominees — Democrat Ann Ravel and Republican Lee Goodman — could come as “early as tomorrow.” Rules Committee staff explained that senators could conduct a vote on Goodman and Ravel without scheduling another formal meeting, instead gathering together during a break in action when the full Senate meets in session. The Rules Committee’s recommendation would be forwarded to the full Senate, which would conduct a final appointment vote.
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will soon schedule an early September vote on two Federal Election Commission nominees, two sources close to the nomination process tell the Center for Public Integrity. Such a vote means the full Senate could consider — and potentially approve — the nominations of Republican Lee E. Goodman, an attorney at law firm LeClairRyan, and Democrat Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, within weeks. As of Friday evening, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, of which Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is chairman, had not published an official notice of the vote.
National: FEC Democrats Try to Run Clock Out on GOP Attempt To End Cooperation With Justice | Main Justice
The Federal Election Commission again postponed its scheduled discussion of a controversial proposal to make it more difficult for the commission to cooperate with the Department of Justice. But not before engaging in a heated discussion about whether and when the matter will be addressed. Explaining her “prerogative to hold the matter over,” Weintraub said that McGahn did not submit his proposed changes to the manual until 10 p.m. on June 9, which did not leave her or then-general counsel Anthony Herman enough time to review the changes. She said she didn’t hold the discussion on June 27 after receiving a request to postpone it the night before from Republican Commissioner Caroline C. Hunter and her GOP colleagues.The commission originally intended to take up the proposal during its public meeting on June 13. But commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub held over discussion and did so again when the commission members gathered on June 27, July 9 and July 22.
National: GOP lawmaker chides FEC for two-year delay in creating enforcement manual | Washington Post
The House Administration committee’s top Republican last week scolded the Federal Election Commission for failing to approve an enforcement manual two years after lawmakers asked the panel to complete the task. “When a federal agency keeps its enforcement policies and procedures secret or makes them difficult to understand, it increases the opportunity for abuse by its employees — abuse that has very real consequences for the Americans subject to its power,” Committee Chairman Candice Miller (Mich.) said in a statement on Friday. In a letter to Miller on Thursday, FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub raised concerns about dealing with enforcement guidelines while the Senate is considering two new nominees for the commission.