FEC Commissioners Battle to Partisan Inaction

FEC Commissioners Steven Walther and Ellen Weintraub

The five commissioners of the Federal Election Commission are finding it almost impossible to reach agreement on almost anything these days. New commissioners may soon help. The Senate Rules Committee may have an early September vote on two new presidential nominees.

The most recent example of inaction was a compliance case (MUR 6540) that reached an impasse in July with three Republicans voted to go against the recommendation of the Office of the General Counsel to find reason to believe the respondents violated (1) the prohibitions on corporate contributions in staging a rally supporting Senator Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign, and (2) made other prohibited contributions in the form of coordinated expenditures. Republican Commissioners McGahn, Hunter and Petersen voted against the recommendation. Democratic Commissioners Weintraub and Walther voted for it. With the impasse the Commission voted in July to close the case without taking any action.

statement of reasons statement of reasons

The statement of reasons of Democratic Commissioners Weintraub and Walther shows the hard lines that exist between parties. (our emphasis added)

"In a Statement of Reasons explaining their rejection of OGC's recommendation, two of our colleagues assert that OGC was wrong to bring the additional corroborating publicly available information to the Commission's attention. The unavoidable implication of this position is that our colleagues are comfortable with the Commission remaining willfully uninformed regarding publicly available information when we evaluate complaints. This approach finds no support in the Act, Commission regulations, or long-established practice. For example, if a complaint on its face would lead a Commissioner to find reason to believe that a violation has occurred, but there is also public information available that definitively refutes the allegations presented in the compliant, would our colleagues have us ignore such public information?  We reject such an interpretation of the law, which would cripple fair enforcement, and expect OGC to continue formulating careful recommendations using publicly available information, exactly as they appropriately did in this case.

Update:  The name-calling was again public on Saturday, when the New York Times ran a letter to the editor from Republican Commissioner Donald McGahn.  In discussing the FEC enforcement manual, McGahn stated, "It is the Democratic chairwoman, Ellen L. Weintraub, who is obstructing such a discussion."