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.
National: Obama to nominate Democratic, Republican members to Federal Election Commission | The Washington Post
President Barack Obama intends to nominate two lawyers with government experience to become commissioners on the Federal Election Commission, the agency that oversees and enforces campaign finance laws. One of the nominees would fill a Democratic vacancy on the commission and the other would replace the Republican vice chairman, the White House said. Obama’s nominee to replace Republican Donald F. McGahn is Lee Goodman, who served as a top aide to former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore of Virginia. Obama’s Democratic nominee is Ann Ravel, the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. She would fill the seat vacated earlier this year by Cynthia Bauerly. If confirmed by the Senate, the FEC would have all of its six commissioners — three Democrats and three Republicans. The even partisan split on the FEC has at times contributed to gridlock on the commission with votes breaking along party lines.
The community of federal campaign oversight will undergo significant downsizing following announcements from the Federal Election Commission and the House Administration Committee, Wednesday. Tony Herman, General Legal Counsel to the Federal Election Commission, will leave the agency this July and the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) moved one inch closer to being scrapped. In a statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub said, “I want to thank Tony for his outstanding service to this agency and to the American public.” He will return to Covington & Burling, LLP where he was a partner before joining the FEC in 2011. The FEC has been understaffed since February when former commissioner, Cynthia Bauerly, left after serving nearly a 5-year term. Now with five out of six commissioners, each serving expired terms, the agency will need to locate a new General Counsel before July 7.
All five sitting commissioners at the Federal Election Commission are now serving expired terms, while the sixth seat remains unfilled since a commissioner retired on Feb. 1, 2013. FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on Tuesday. Until their replacements are confirmed by the Senate, FEC commissioners are permitted to stay on. Former Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly resigned her post in February long after her own term had expired. President Barack Obama has not successfully appointed a single new commissioner to the FEC. In 2010, his lone appointee withdrew during a contentious confirmation process. Obama’s failure to name commissioners has been a sore point for campaign finance reformers, who sent a blistering letter to the White House on Monday excoriating the president for not pushing hard enough to reform the nation’s system of campaign funding.
Already short one officer, the Federal Election Commission will soon have a dubious distinction: As of April 30, all five of its remaining commissioners will be serving expired terms. By now President Barack Obama’s failure to fully staff the dysfunctional agency barely even riles government watchdogs. In theory composed of three Republicans and three Democrats, the FEC has been deadlocked for so long that, some argue, the agency could hardly grind to more of a halt. But the FEC’s growing backlog of work, protracted stalemates and failure to enforce or even explain the rules is taking a toll. At a minimum, political players are increasingly confused about how to reconcile already-complicated election laws with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to deregulate political spending. (The FEC has yet to issue regulations interpreting that ruling.) At worst, the FEC’s failure to act on even the most blatant violations is sending an “anything goes” signal to political players, who are becoming increasingly brazen about testing what’s allowed. True, most candidates, elected officials and donors simply want to understand the rules and follow them. But a growing number, election lawyers say, see their competitors pushing the envelope and are tempted to follow suit.
Three conservative attorneys had harsh words for the Federal Election Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating elections, during a campaign finance-themed event today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Benjamin Barr, who specializes in First Amendment law, predicted that continued legal challenges would help “lessen the teeth” of the FEC, which, in an ideal world, he said, would be “shut down.” The agency’s regulatory authority “is very small,” he said, while lamenting that political activists have become “habituated” to “bowing in compliance with the federal government” by registering and reporting their financial activities to the six-member commission. The commission is now operating with five commissioners because of the resignation of Democrat Cynthia Bauerly in February. Such talk came during a week when the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election cost more than $6.3 million at the federal level.
A new estimate from the Federal Election Commission puts total spending for the 2012 election at more than $7 billion — $1 billion more than previously thought. New FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub unveiled the latest estimate of the 2012 campaign’s record-shattering cost at the agency’s first open meeting of 2013, one that saw the departure of Cynthia Bauerly, one of the three Democratic commissioners. Though campaign spending was expected to break records after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that opened the door for unlimited contributions, the latest FEC estimate exceeds earlier expectations. The FEC processed more than 11 million documents to calculate the spending for the election and the counting isn’t yet complete: New filings covering the final quarter of 2012 are due at midnight.
Cynthia Bauerly, one of six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, handed in her resignation on Friday and will officially leave the body that oversees campaign finance regulation in February. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the Federal Election Commission since 2008,” Bauerly, one of the three Democrats on the commission, wrote in the resignation letter obtained by The Huffington Post. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the country in this role and I will step down on February 1, 2013.”