Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

The Phantom Commission

Election law experts and EAC observers point to DeGregorio’s departure in February 2007 as a turning point. A Republican National Committee attorney was appointed to take his place. The subsequent release of two reports on voter fraud and voter identification raised questions about partisan influences. The agency’s new leadership disagreed on the basics of what its mission should be, or whether it should even exist. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel settled with a job applicant who charged that the agency’s commissioners refused to hire a Republican general counsel.

When Hillman left in December 2010, there was already an open Democratic position. The agency hasn’t had a quorum of three commissioners since.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) introduced legislation to eliminate the commission in February 2011, following a broader effort to cut ineffective federal programs. Harper said it makes economic sense given that most of the Help America Vote Act funds have already been distributed, the commission’s highest cost is its personnel and the agency has a history of hiring misconduct. “Its time has come and gone,” Harper told Roll Call.

The commission’s “essential functions” can be streamlined and transferred to the FEC, he said. The House passed the bill last December over the objections of Democrats who said the EAC should be overhauled, not eliminated. That same month, when the measure arrived in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) declared it dead. The agency’s remaining Republican commissioners left shortly after. Republican leadership has not recommended any nominees to the White House, a tactical move that ensures the vacancies remain because Democratic and Republican openings must be filled in tandem.

The last time the Senate Rules and Administration Committee addressed the commission’s stalled Democratic nominees directly was in a June 2011 hearing, when ranking member Lamar
Alexander (R-Tenn.) said it was “premature” to discuss new commissioners when they should be “abolishing this commission.” Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the committee would examine the larger issue without promising to hold an oversight hearing.

Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon told Roll Call that they are “hopeful to receive bipartisan cooperation on fully staffing the agency soon after Congress returns.” An Alexander aide said the Senator has not “heard anything from Chairman Schumer about a hearing” and has not changed his position on the EAC’s future.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said that “during a close election year, it is regrettable that Republicans have worked to cripple the EAC” by attempting to cut its funding and refusing to recommend commissioners. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office said he doesn’t comment on pending nominees.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), said that Republicans should “stop obstructing” the commission’s work. Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office did not respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t understand it. If I didn’t believe in the commission and I thought for whatever reasons it shouldn’t exist, I still have a responsibility to appoint someone who is going to exercise mature judgment and make the place work,” said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections. Gonzalez led a failed effort to study the EAC’s functions before making any decisions about its future.

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