FEC Commissioner Weintraub believes that she has hit upon a regulatory maneuver to stop publicly traded corporations from making independent expenditures, or unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees. At a time when newspaper editorialists carry on with attacks on the Commission as “worse than useless,” the Commissioner seems determined to prod the FEC to face the major “money in politics” issues of the day. This is her theory: foreign nationals cannot make contributions or independent expenditures, which means that the FEC could establish that no corporation with foreign nationals as shareholders could engage in this political spending. The rule would not bring about this result outright: it would require a corporation to “certify” that it was not making contributions or independent expenditures with these funds. As a practical matter, corporations with foreign national shareholders could not risk making the certification and would forgo this political spending. The Commissioner plans to direct lawyers to produce proposals that she and her colleagues can consider in a future rulemaking.
The agency instructed to treat corporations as people – at least when it comes to their right to spend money on political speech – isn’t sure if its own commissioners are. During a fraught exchange at Thursday’s Federal Election Commission monthly meeting, a Republican commissioner said none of the six panel members should be counted as a “person” when it comes to petitioning their own agency. This led to a strange back and forth between Matthew Petersen, a Republican, and Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, over her personhood. “First of all, let me say I cannot believe that you are actually going to take the position that I am not a person…a corporation is a person, but I’m not a person?” Weintraub fired back. “That’s how bad it has gotten. My colleagues will not admit that I am a person. That’s really striking.”
Two Democratic members of the Federal Election Commission, who say they are frustrated by the agency’s failure to rein in campaign-finance abuses ahead of the 2016 presidential race, are making what amounts to a drastic move Monday in the staid world of federal election law. Commissioners Ann Ravel, who is the agency’s chairwoman, and Ellen Weintraub are filing a formal petition, urging their own agency to write rules to clamp down on unfettered political spending and unmask the anonymous money flooding U.S. elections.
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.
Bitcoin, the virtual currency that exists as alphanumeric strings online, is on the verge of getting into politics. The Federal Election Commission is expected to vote Thursday on a proposal to allow bitcoin contributions to political action committees — even as skeptics say that bitcoins could undermine the disclosure standards of federal law. The FEC is acting as other federal agencies are also exploring the uses, and dangers, of digital currency. At a Senate hearing on Monday, federal law enforcement officials cited Silk Road, an online illegal marketplace that used bitcoin before it was shut down. Edward Lowery III, chief of the Secret Service Criminal Investigative Division, told the panel: “While digital currencies may provide potential benefits, they present real risks through their use by the criminal and terrorist organizations trying to conceal their illicit activity.” Still, no one at the Senate hearing wanted to stifle virtual currency, and neither does the FEC. The commission was brought into the issue by the Conservative Action Fund, a political action committee that is seeking approval to accept bitcoins as contributions.
National: Government Shutdown May Mean No Disclosure Of Campaign Finance Before Special Elections | ThinkProgress
As the government shutdown continues to prevent all “non-essential” federal employees from doing their jobs, the Federal Election Commission’s operations have been particularly hard hit. With all but four of the agency’s employees furloughed until the shutdown’s end, voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and New Jersey may not have any opportunity to see who is contributing to and running ads in support of the candidates. According to a Center for Public Integrity report, only the four currently-serving FEC Commissioners are considered essential. While parts of the agency’s electronic campaign finance disclosure system are automated, FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub noted that no one will be around to resolve any glitches, computer crashes, or other parts of the disclosure process that require human action. “I don’t know how to personally post the reports — I’m a little out of my league there,” she noted, adding, “The public will have to go without disclosures until we open back up.”
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub isn’t required to stay home today in the midst of a government shutdown. But there’s hardly a point to her visiting the agency’s office at 999 E. St. NW in downtown Washington, D.C. “I’d literally be the one turning the lights on,” said Weintraub, one of just four FEC employees among 339 the government has deemed “essential” during the shutdown. “My entire staff has been furloughed, so working — it’s what I can do on my own, along with my three colleagues on the commission.” And that’s not much. Phone calls to agency workers ring to voicemails, emails go unreturned and audits and enforcement cases and investigations are on ice until further notice. As Tuesday afternoon arrived, the FEC also appeared to stop uploading documents for public consumption, from candidate income and expenditure reports to notifications of political action committee formations.
The five commissioners of the Federal Election Commission are finding it almost impossible to reach agreement on almost anything these days. New commissioners may soon help. The Senate Rules Committee may have an early September vote on two new presidential nominees. The most recent example of inaction was a compliance case (MUR 6540) that reached an impasse in July with three Republicans voted to go against the recommendation of the Office of the General Counsel to find reason to believe the respondents violated (1) the prohibitions on corporate contributions in staging a rally supporting Senator Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and (2) made other prohibited contributions in the form of coordinated expenditures. Republican Commissioners McGahn, Hunter and Petersen voted against the recommendation. Democratic Commissioners Weintraub and Walther voted for it. With the impasse the Commission voted in July to close the case without taking any action.
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.
The Federal Election Commission’s lead member has called for an inspector general’s review to help determine whether the FEC coordinated with the Internal Revenue Service in targeting groups based on their political beliefs. FEC chairman Ellen L. Weintraub said her decision came in response to a request last week from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the head of the House Administration Committee, who asked the agency to hand over all of its communications with the IRS since 2008. Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Charles Boustany (D-La.) made a similar request to acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel after publishing e-mails showing that Lois Lerner, the embattled former head of the agency’s exempt-organizations division, acknowledged possibly telling an FEC lawyer that a group did not appear on a publicly available list of tax-exempt groups. Federal law prohibits the IRS from releasing information about organizations that have been denied, but it can publish information about approved groups.
Dysfunction and conflict continue to roil the Federal Election Commission (FEC), where Republican commissioners hope to exploit their short-term majority and pass wrongheaded changes to the agency’s rules. This summer, Vice Chairman Donald F. McGhan and two other Republican commissioners proposed barring the FEC’s general counsel, when judging whether to pursue an enforcement matter, from consulting publicly available information without commission approval. This would prohibit the FEC staff from using Google, Facebook or a newspaper to look into a possible violation of campaign finance laws without prior approval. The proposal would also limit the FEC’s ability to share information with the Justice Department.
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.
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.
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.
Do candidate-specific super PACs pose a greater threat of corruption to democracy than multi-candidate super PACs, Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub asked Friday at a Willamette Law School symposium on political money and influence. The answer, Weintraub said in response to her own question, “could be yes. I would probably define corruption a little more broadly than the Supreme Court does,” Weintraub added. Ahead of last year’s elections, candidate-specific super PACs proliferated. President Barack Obama’s allies, for instance, created Priorities USA Action, while GOP operatives launched Restore Our Future to support the presidential ambitions of Republican Mitt Romney.