The nation’s top political watchdog is so thoroughly mired in a toxic partisan gridlock that the members themselves can barely contain their disdain for each other. But there is no sign of a wholesale change at the Federal Election Commission for what might seem like a bizarre reason: There aren’t enough qualified lawyers in Washington. Five of the six FEC commissioners are currently serving beyond the expiration of their terms; only chairwoman Ann Ravel’s term has yet to expire. But there is little interest from either Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill in finding a new slate of members, one that could perhaps get along better than the current set.
“The election law bar remains quite small,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic election law specialist currently serving as chief counsel to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “There are a limited number of people with the requisite experience to fill the positions.”
Dan Backer, a Republican campaign finance lawyer who has argued frequently before the FEC, traces the problem back to a series of court cases that culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.
Prior to those rulings, there were only a few places to practice election law, usually just at one of the national parties or a couple relevant House and Senate committees. But when the legal door opened to super PACs, everything changed. Suddenly there were any number of well-paying campaign finance jobs, but only a few attorneys with decades of experience practicing election law.