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.
Commissioner Ravel nominated Commissioner Goodman as Vice-Chair to replace Donald F. McGahn II, who left the agency last month; Commissioner Goodman was then elected by a unanimous vote, with Goodman abstaining. The nomination was pro forma and never in doubt. The chair and vice chair positions rotate between the two political parties – Commissioner Ellen Weintraub is now Chair – and each position rotates among the party’s members based on prior service. Because Commissioner Goodman, alone among the three Republicans, had never served as chair or vice chair, his nomination was foreordained. But the positions are not merely ceremonial. The Chair and Vice Chair assume administrative duties within the agency that the other Commissioners do not share.
At the meeting, the Commission adopted an advisory opinion to Joe Miller, who was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alaska in 2010. Miller had asked the FEC to approve his use of campaign funds in connection with ongoing litigation over the release of his employment records. During the 2010 Senate campaign, an Alaska news organization won a court battle requiring Miller’s former employer to release his employment records by arguing that their release was necessary because of Miller’s status as a political candidate. The litigation continued after the election, and an Alaska trial court eventually issued an award of over $85,000 dollars against Miller for the news organization’s legal costs. In order to appeal the award, Miller was required to post a $5,000 cash bond. Miller wanted to use campaign funds to pay both the $5,000 bond and, in the event he loses the appeal, the award for attorney’s fees.