With the news, reported Friday by ThinkProgress, that President Obama will apparently have the power to make recess appointments over the coming week, he will have the unique opportunity to fix the Federal Election Commission (FEC). By announcing six recent appointments, he could completely remake the broken elections agency. Since April 30, the terms of every single commissioner have been expired. Five commissioners appointed by President George W. Bush are permitted to stay on indefinitely until replaced — one seat is vacant. While no more than three members of the Commission can be of either political party, all six must be appointed by the president. Former Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger once quipped that, ”This is probably the only agency in Washington that has done from the beginning exactly what it was intended to do, which was to do nothing.” But with an unprecedented number of deadlocked votes on even routine enforcement matters, the three current Republican commissioners have managed to make historically weak campaign finance enforcement almost non-existent.
The trio has blocked virtually all enforcement and rejected efforts to provide greater transparency. Commissioner Donald McGahn II even admitted in 2011, “I’m not enforcing the law as Congress passed it… I plead guilty as charged,” arguing that he instead enforced the law based on his own interpretation of what the Supreme Court would want him to do.
While President Obama nominated two candidates last month — one Democrat, one Republican — his sole prior nomination was never even giving a Senate confirmation vote after two Senators placed a “hold” on his consideration.