It’s one of the oldest traditions in Washington: Take an oversight post or a staff job on a government panel for a few years — then cash in at one of the city’s top law firms, lobbying shops or consulting outfits. But at the Federal Election Commission, the revolving door has virtually stopped moving. That’s mostly because for many qualified nominees, the post is just not worth the hassle. Unlike top regulatory or policy jobs at the Commerce Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Communications Commission and others, there’s not necessarily a lucrative job waiting at the end of their terms. Former commissioners, attorneys and outside observers say that lack of a potential career boost — or worse, losing business and clients with no guarantee of being confirmed — is one reason that’s kept potential new members on the sidelines.
“For lawyers with established practices and a good client base, leaving private practice to serve as a commissioner on the FEC can be a major financial hit,” said Michael Toner, a partner and election specialist with Wiley Rein, who served on the commission from 2002 to 2007. “Serving on the FEC can also be challenging on the back end given that you leave the agency with zero clients and the need to rebuild your law practice.”
The FEC — which regulates the influence of money in politics — has come under fire as one of the most dysfunctional agencies in Washington. The six-person panel routinely deadlocks on critical enforcement decisions, and campaign finance reform advocates say it has failed to properly regulate the dramatic rise in political cash flowing through the system.
President Barack Obama has nominated only one person to the FEC — who wasn’t even confirmed — even as he has complained loudly and publicly about the corrosive and widening influence of money in politics.
Meanwhile, there’s one vacancy on the panel, and terms of the current five commissioners have been allowed to lapse, yet they’re still serving because the FEC’s unusual rules allow those with expired terms to sit indefinitely until their replacements are confirmed.
The White House is currently in the process of vetting two nominees — one Democrat and one Republican, POLITICO has confirmed. The plan, first reported by Bloomberg, is to unveil them when the Senate returns from recess after Memorial Day.