FEC

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Editorials: Empower the FEC to Fight Election Crime – A depleted commission faces threats from Russia and beyond | Bloomberg

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudolph Giuliani, are charged with funneling $325,000 in foreign money into a super-PAC supporting President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Their indictment should serve as a warning about the threat of foreign manipulation of U.S. elections. It also proves the need for a functioning Federal Election Commission. After a resignation in August, the six-seat commission is down to only three members. The commission needs four for a quorum, and requires a quorum to authorize investigations by its office of general counsel. So FEC lawyers can work on cases previously authorized, but they can’t investigate new ones until the president nominates, and the Senate confirms, at least one new commissioner. Trump has nominated Texas lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III — but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has fast-tracked dozens of federal court nominees, has dragged his feet on this one, failing to schedule a hearing or a vote. McConnell’s antipathy to campaign regulation appears to be trumping his duty to voters.

Full Article: Federal Election Commission Needs Members to Stop 2020 Vote Crime - Bloomberg.

Editorials: We need our elections protected. A weakened FEC only invites attack. | The Washington Post

IF THE Securities and Exchange Commission stopped acting, the nation would feel vulnerable to securities fraud. If the Federal Trade Commission were paralyzed, or the Federal Communications Commission, there would be a crisis of confidence in fields they regulate. Why, then, are the nation’s political leaders so complacent about the Federal Election Commission, the independent regulatory agency charged with being the watchdog over the political process and protecting the integrity of U.S. democracy? As of this month, the six-member commission is down to three commissioners, although it needs four for a quorum. Without a quorum, the FEC cannot hold hearings, make rules, initiate litigation, issue advisory opinions, launch investigations or approve enforcement actions and audits, among other things. The FEC chairwoman, Ellen L. Weintraub, has put on a brave face, noting that the commission’s “most important duties will continue unimpeded,” such as shining a spotlight on campaign finance and performing the staff work when it receives complaints. She insists that the “United States’ election cop is still on the 2020 campaign beat” and that she will “remain vigilant to all threats to the integrity of our elections.”

Full Article: We need our elections protected. A weakened FEC only invites attack. - The Washington Post.

National: FEC shutdown — Democracy dies in daylight, too | Renée Graham/The Boston Globe

The Federal Election Commission is essentially toast. Last week, Matthew Petersen, its Republican vice chairman, resigned, leaving the six-member panel with only three members — one person short of the requisite quorum. “Without a quorum, certain Commission activities will not take place,” said FEC commissioner Caroline C. Hunter in a statement. “For example, the Commission will not be able to hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings.” In one of his last actions, Petersen, along with Hunter, also a Republican, stopped the FEC from using its powers as intended. They blocked an investigation into a report that Alexander Torshin (a Russian central banker close to Russian President Vladimir Putin) and Maria Butina used the NRA as “a conduit” to illegally funnel money between Russia and the Trump campaign. Butina later pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian state. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Now the FEC’s dysfunction is tumbling toward disaster. The regulatory agency charged with enforcing campaign finance laws in federal elections has been kneecapped during a general election season already under a sustained attack by enemies both foreign and domestic.

Full Article: FEC shutdown — Democracy dies in daylight, too - The Boston Globe.

Editorials: Federal Election Commission is now out of commission — that’s downright scary | Kim Wehle/The Hill

Republican Matthew S. Petersen announced his resignation from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week. Ho hum news this is not. What it means is that the government agency charged with overseeing compliance with the federal campaign finance laws has been gutted. It now lacks the ability to meaningfully function in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. There are two primary takeaways here. The first is that this is not unwelcome news for conservatives — such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who believe that government oversight of federal campaigns is bad in general. McConnell led the years-long charge to kill the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), a feat that was largely accomplished by the Supreme Court with its 2009 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That case overruled on First Amendment grounds the statutory bans on soft or “issue-ad” money spent by corporations and unions close to presidential primaries and general elections. With the FEC now out of commission, there is no longer a cop on the block to enforce the remaining rules-of-the-game aimed at enhancing fair and free elections in the United States. If no cop is around to pull over speed-demon drivers, the speed limits become meaningless. Translation? It’s the Wild West in federal-campaign-land, and individual voters are the ones who will suffer for it. The second takeaway is that, once again, Congress is to blame for this travesty.

Full Article: Federal Election Commission is now out of commission — that's downright scary | TheHill.

National: No Quorum At FEC Means Election Law Enforcement Is On Hold | Brian Naylor/NPR

Barring some kind of miraculous last-minute reprieve, Friday will be the last business day that the Federal Election Commission will be able to function for quite a while, leaving the enforcement of federal campaign finance laws unattended ahead of the 2020 election. The commission’s vice chairman, Matthew Petersen, announced his resignation earlier this week, to take effect at the end of the month. With Petersen gone, the FEC will be down to three members, and won’t have a quorum. In addition to collecting campaign finance data, the FEC investigates potential campaign finance violations, issues fines and gives guidance to campaigns about following election law — but not without a working quorum of at least four commissioners. “To not have the FEC able to take action right now is deeply concerning,” says Daniel Weiner, a former senior counsel at the FEC, who’s now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school. In particular, Weiner is concerned about another attempt by Russia or other actors to interfere in the 2020 election.

Full Article: No Quorum At FEC Means Election Law Enforcement Is On Hold : NPR.

National: FEC vice chairman resigns, leaving agency unable to vote | Maggie Miller/The Hill

The vice chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) submitted his resignation letter to President Trump on Monday, leaving the agency without the necessary number of commissioners to vote on proposed actions. Matthew Petersen, a Republican who has served as a commissioner since 2008, wrote that he will formally step down on Aug. 31. “Throughout my service, I have faithfully discharged my duty to enforce the law in a manner that respects free speech rights, while also fairly interpreting the relevant statutes and regulations and providing meaningful notice to those subject to FEC jurisdiction,” Petersen wrote. “I am honored to have served the American people in this capacity and to have fulfilled the oath taken 11 years ago.” A spokesperson for the FEC confirmed Petersen’s resignation, declining to comment further. His departure leaves the agency with only three of the four members required to vote on proposed actions.

Full Article: FEC vice chairman resigns, leaving agency unable to vote | TheHill.

National: As Russia Eyes 2020, America’s Election Watchdog Is Out of Commission | Nicole Goodkind/Newsweek

The Federal Election Commission, an independent agency that enforces all campaign finance law and ensures the integrity of political campaigns, lost its vice chairman Monday evening, essentially rendering the agency useless. In order to take any official enforcement or regulatory action, the agency is required to have a quorum of four members on its board, but the resignation of Matthew Petersen, effective this week, leaves the commission with only three members, all of whom are still working even though their six-year terms of service have all expired. There were already three vacancies before this week’s kerfuffle. The FEC issued about $33.6 million in fines between 1999 and 2008, but over the last 10 years that dropped to $11.4 million. Yet, election security has become an increasingly important issue. Just last month, former special counsel Robert Mueller ominously warned Congress that Russia had lofty plans to interfere in the next election. “They’re doing it as we sit here and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” he said.

Full Article: As Russia Eyes 2020, America's Election Watchdog Is Out of Commission.

National: FEC allow scampaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services | Maggie Miller/The Hill

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Thursday approved a request from a private company to provide discounted cybersecurity services to political campaigns, saying it did not violate campaign finance rules. The decision came in response to a request from Area 1 Security, a California-based company, to offer cybersecurity services to federal political candidates and political committees at discounted rates. The FEC, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance for presidential and congressional elections, decided the arrangement did not violate campaign contribution rules because the company offers similar discounted services to nonpolitical clients as well. The decision allows the company to sell anti-phishing services to federal candidates and political committees for as little as $1,337 per year, according to the FEC. The agency wrote that “doing so would be in the ordinary course of Area 1’s business and on terms and conditions that apply to similarly situated non-political clients.”

Full Article: Feds allow campaigns to accept discounted cybersecurity services | TheHill.

National: FEC allows nonprofit to provide free cybersecurity services to campaigns | Shannon Vavra/CyberScoop

The Federal Election Commission has decided that a nonprofit spinoff of Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy Project may provide free and low-cost cybersecurity services to political campaigns without violating campaign finance laws, given the fact that there is a “highly unusual and serious threat” posed to U.S. elections by foreign adversaries. The driving force behind the FEC’s advisory opinion, which FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub issued Tuesday, is the fact that there is a “demonstrated, currently enhanced threat of foreign cyberattacks against party and candidate committees,” she writes in the advisory. The nonprofit, Defending Digital Campaigns, has political campaign veterans Matt Rhoades and Robby Mook among its board members, as well as former National Security Agency executive Debora Plunkett. In the ruling, Weintraub notes the FEC’s decision is partly due to the other efforts by the government, primarily to expose and prosecute foreign adversaries, that she indicates have not done enough to protect campaigns and political parties.

Full Article: FEC allows nonprofit to provide free cybersecurity services to campaigns.

National: Democrats seek FEC assurance on campaign finance oversight during shutdown | Politico

The partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, is affecting the Federal Election Commission’s ability to enforce campaign finance laws and investigate possible infractions, Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee wrote to the FEC on Wednesday. Ninety percent of the agency’s 300 employees have been furloughed, forcing it to skip its first scheduled meeting of the year, according to the letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

Full Article: Democrats seek FEC assurance on campaign finance oversight during shutdown - POLITICO.

National: FEC probes whether NRA got illegal Russian donations | Politico

The Federal Election Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the National Rifle Association that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to people who were notified of the probe. The inquiry stems in part from a complaint from a liberal advocacy group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, which asked the FEC to look into media reports about links between the rifle association and Russian entities, including a banker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. A spokesman for the NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, which together contributed $30 million to Trump’s presidential campaign, declined to comment on the FEC’s probe.

Full Article: FEC probes whether NRA got illegal Russian donations - POLITICO.

National: Democrats use loophole to pump millions into fight for the House | Politico

The Democratic Party is directing millions of extra dollars to its House candidates this fall by way of a legal loophole that has helped them bypass the typical limits on coordinated spending between parties and candidates — all while linking some vulnerable Republicans to Donald Trump. Typically, Federal Election Commission regulations limit parties to just $48,100 of spending in direct coordination with most House candidates. But under a decade-old FEC precedent, candidates who word their TV ads a certain way — including references to generic “Democrats” and “Republicans” as well as specific candidates — can split the cost of those ads with their party, even if that means blowing past the normal coordinated spending caps. To date, more than a dozen Democratic challengers are benefiting from such “hybrid” advertising, getting extra hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The technique has been a small but consistent part of Democratic strategy in recent years, but new legal guidance has also allowed Democrats to share costs on ads linking their opponents to Trump on policy.

Full Article: Democrats use loophole to pump millions into fight for the House - POLITICO.

Voting Blogs: Citizens United and the “Impossible Dream” | More Soft Money Hard Law

Justice Ginsburg’s recent press comments have been noted mostly for her openly expressed disdain for the Trump candidacy. Less surprising in the remarks was the Justice’s “impossible dream” that Citizens United be overturned. She has said this before, and since she dissented in that case, there is not much news here, unless anyone still had doubts that for this Justice, the killing off of that decision is a priority. The comment was reported at the same time as the Complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by Representative Ted Lieu and others who intend to set into motion the reconsideration the Justice is hoping for. And so it invites an appraisal of its prospects for accomplishing the Justice Ginsburg’s “impossible dream.” As my colleague Marc Elias has pointed out, the FEC cannot succeed; this is a lost cause. When the Complaint fails, it may do little more than unnecessarily promote the belief that CU is here to stay. It is not clear why this is the best legal maneuver, or the most effective exercise in public communications, in the attack on Speechnow and Citizens United.

Full Article: Citizens United and the "Impossible Dream" -.

Voting Blogs: Deadlock and Ominous Uncertainty at the FEC | More Soft Money Hard Law

The FEC has once again deadlocked on an enforcement case and left an important question dangerously open.  Months ago, the FEC could do nothing useful with a case about the use of LLCs to make contributions.  Now it is inviting trouble, and not for the first time, with a case about how hard a corporation may press its employees to support the employer’s political program. In the recent case, the FEC was forced by the usual 3-3 division to dismiss a complaint that a company pressured employees to make political contributions to its PAC and favored candidates.  The question before the agency was whether to investigate. There were reasons, including internal company documents.  In one of them, the company advised managers that “we have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts.”  There was a press report recounting the experience of unnamed employees with coercive practices, and one employee put her complaint on the public record as part of a wrongful termination action.

Full Article: Deadlock and Ominous Uncertainty at the FEC -.

Voting Blogs: “Desperate” at the FEC, Part II: The Risks of Unintended Consequences | More Soft Money Hard Law

A few questions and comments have passed back and forth on the election law listserv about a procedural question raised by the Ravel-Weintraub petition to the FEC for a rulemaking: would the two Commissioners apparently filing this petition in a private capacity have to recuse themselves from voting on it? But there is also a question, not so far discussed, of other consequences that could attach to their decision to raise certain issues in this form. Potential recusal is part, not all, of the problematic course that this initiative could take. The Commissioners wish to have the Commission “clarify” two issues they claim to have been thrown into some doubt by Citizens United. They are concerned that there is some uncertainty about “whether and to what extent” foreign nationals and foreign owned or controlled US subsidiaries can be involved in making corporate independent expenditures. A second clarification is intended to leave no doubt that employers, now prohibited from coercing their employees into making PAC contributions or facilitating candidate fundraising, may also not direct or pressure them into supporting independent expenditures.

Full Article: "Desperate" at the FEC, Part II: The Risks of Unintended Consequences -.

Voting Blogs: “Desperate” at the FEC | More Soft Money Hard Law

By petitioning their own agency for a rulemaking, Commissioners Weintraub and Ravel have found a novel way to charge their colleagues with fecklessness. Call it a populist gesture: they are stepping out of their roles as administrators and issuing their appeal from the outside, as members of the general public. They may have done all they could or intended to do with this Petition, which was to publicize their grievances. Or they may have sought to add to public understanding of the grounds of this grievance-to enlighten and inform, and not only turn up the volume of their complaint. A first point—minor but worth considering– is whether this agency needs another quirky procedural controversy. What does it mean for two Commissioners, one of whom is agency Chair, to dispense with their formal roles and petition as citizens, filing a petition on plain paper without their titles and just the Commission’s street address? Will they recuse themselves from voting on the petition as Commissioners? Will they testify before themselves?

Full Article: "Desperate" at the FEC -.

Voting Blogs: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing | More Soft Money Hard Law

A dispute over whether the FEC is tilting its investigations against conservatives or Republicans is mostly a waste of energy. Commissioner Goodman got this started at a Commission hearing and has been rebuked by Commissioner Ravel. The Republicans profess to be outraged; the Democrats announce that this outrage has rendered them speechless. Once again there is here, in the midst of this clamor, an important question– the uses and misuses of the agency’s enforcement process—that is being misdirected into another round of finger-pointing about bad faith and improper motive.

Full Article: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing -.

National: Get ready for a lot more ‘dark money’ in politics | The Washington Post

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a sobering interview with the head of the Federal Election Commission, who confirmed that she had largely given up on the agency playing a meaningful role in restraining fundraising and spending abuses in the 2016 campaign. The commissioners are deadlocked, FEC chair Ann Ravel said, because Republican members of the commission think the FEC should exercise less robust oversight, meaning the agency has become “worse than dysfunctional” at a time when outside money is poised to play an even larger role than it did in the last two cycles.

Full Article: Get ready for a lot more ‘dark money’ in politics - The Washington Post.

Voting Blogs: FEC Conflicts: the Choices of the Chair and the Responsibility for Non-Enforcement | More Soft Money Hard Law

In op-eds and interviews, FEC Chair Ravel has chosen a particular course for her one-year term as the agency’s leader.  She is making use of the pulpit she now commands to express her view that the law is going unenforced.  It is question of Republican intransigence, she argues, and the consequences are “destructive to the political process.”  Commissioner Weintraub has advanced the same position. Republicans inside and outside the FEC have strenuously objected to this conclusion and the manner in which she has expressed it.  And they have added to their complaint the allegation that, in a “listening tour” on dark money and a forum organized on the role of women in politics, the Chair has acted outside her mandate and invited the appearance of partisan bias.

Full Article: FEC Conflicts: the Choices of the Chair and the Responsibility for Non-Enforcement -.

Ohio: Judge strikes down Ohio ban on political lies | Al Jazeera

In a ruling that could reverberate nationwide, a federal judge has struck down Ohio’s law barring people from knowingly or recklessly making false statements about candidates in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court said needed to be heard. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled Thursday that Ohio’s law, in effect since 1995, is unconstitutional and prohibited the Ohio Elections Commission and its members from enforcing the law. The judge said in his ruling that the answer to false statements in politics is “not to force silence, but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the government, decide what the political truth is. Ohio’s false-statements laws do not accomplish this, and the court is not empowered to re-write the statutes; that is the job of the Legislature,” Black wrote. The Supreme Court in June found unanimously that an anti-abortion group should be able to challenge the law, in a case that grew out of a 2010 congressional race. The Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, had contended that the Ohio statute violated free speech rights and chilled a wide variety of political speech.

Full Article: Judge strikes down Ohio ban on political lies | Al Jazeera America.