Campaign finance violations and corruption may now go quietly under the radar of regulators, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
McConnell has long been opposed to measures to enhance election security despite continued threats from Russia to the American electoral system. While Republicans have tried to shutter agencies designed to protect elections in the past, this new move from the self-styled grim reaper of progressivism is especially grim.
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) oversees all issues relating to campaign finance. The commission is comprised of no more than three Democrats and no more than three Republicans, but has been operating at its bare minimum functional number of four for approximately a year and a half. Following the announcement that FEC vice-chairman Matthew Petersen will resign at the end of the month, the FEC will enter September effectively shuttered.
The FEC was established to “prevent corruption in the Federal campaign process by administering, enforcing, and formulating policy with respect to Federal campaign finance statutes.” It provides transparency in campaign finance as well as enforces penalties related to campaign finance law violations. But without quorum — that is, the minimum number of member needed to conduct operations — the FEC will not be able to carry out these functions.
Admittedly, the perfect partisan balance the commission maintains often leads to it being unable to take many serious actions. It’s been quipped that the FEC was designed to do nothing. But despite this gridlock, it has managed to investigate corruption, audit campaigns and issue fines for violations. The FEC has investigated both a political action group backing Congresswoman Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez (D-New York) and proposed rule changes to further rein in foreign influence on elections in recent memory. The agency has also issued record fines to the Right to Rise PAC for its foreign financing in violation of American electoral law.
Commissioners usually serve a six-year term, staggered so two commissioners — one Republican and one Democrat — are up for replacement at the same time. If no replacement is found, a commissioner can continue to serve until replaced or until they resign. New commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But since he became Senate Majority Leader in 2015, Mitch McConnell has not allowed any appointments to the FEC to be confirmed.
Now, without its minimum of three members, the Commission will not be able to pass new finance rules, audit campaigns, assess fines as penalties, conduct investigations, or provide campaigns with consultation and advice as to how to conduct themselves in accordance with campaign finance law.
Effectively, McConnell has broken the FEC.
“Despite the lack of quorum, I expect to be fully occupied while at the commission reviewing case files and preparing for new members to join the commission,” said Republican commissioner Caroline Hunter.
The FEC’s Democratic Chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, pledged the commission will continue to shine a spotlight on the 2020 campaigns.
It’s capacity to do so, however, will be greatly diminished as of September 1.
(Featured image: United States Senate/Wikimedia Commons)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.