Fed up with White House inaction, a coalition of reform advocates has launched a petition drive to pressure President Barack Obama to install new commissioners at the Federal Election Commission.
The terms of five of the six commissioners of the FEC, which is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, have expired. Frequent FEC stalemates, coupled with resistance to regulation by GOP commissioners, have rendered the agency dysfunctional, said organizers from the six groups that launched the petition.
The petition drive reflects “growing frustration” among reform advocates over White House inaction on the FEC, said Lloyd Leonard, advocacy director at the League of Women Voters. Reform backers have complained to administration officials in letters, press conferences and meetings since 2009, they said today during a press conference call, but the White House has responded with polite inaction.
“It’s clear that the president has not yet done his job in moving this issue forward,” Leonard said. “And we feel it’s time for him to step up and do his job. It’s time to clean house at the FEC.”
In addition to the League of Women Voters, the leading groups behind the petition are the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Democracy 21, Public Citizen and Americans for Campaign Reform. Organizers said that if they collect 25,000 signatures on the petition by Feb. 10, the White House has pledged to respond.
The number of deadlocked votes on the FEC has increased eightfold since 2008, from 2 percent to 16 percent, said Craig Holman, director of government relations at Public Citizen. A majority is required for the FEC to take action.
The FEC’s defenders counter that the number of 3-3 splits on the commission has been grossly exaggerated. A slate of new FEC nominees would put Obama on a collision course with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a staunch opponent of campaign finance regulations.
Historically, lawmakers have had little stomach for controversial campaign finance fights during election years. Reform advocates acknowledged the odds are against them but argued that a fight with Capitol Hill over commissioners would be worth having.
“Every Senator would have to go on record, provided the Senate nominees are called up for a vote,” Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer said. “There would be accountability.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.