Administration plans to nominate bipartisan pair to hobbled FEC

Vacancies have kept campaign finance agency from meeting

James “Trey” Trainor III's appointment to the Federal Election Commission this year briefly gave the agency a working quorum. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
James “Trey” Trainor III's appointment to the Federal Election Commission this year briefly gave the agency a working quorum. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 28, 2020 at 4:46pm

After leaving so many vacancies at the Federal Election Commission that it couldn’t even hold meetings for most of the 2020 campaign cycle, the Trump administration said Wednesday it planned to nominate a bipartisan pair to the hobbled agency. 

President Donald Trump’s picks are Republican Sean J. Cooksey, who serves as general counsel to Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, and Shana M. Broussard, who currently serves as counsel to FEC Commissioner Steven T. Walther. Broussard, if confirmed, would be the first Black commissioner in the agency’s 45-year history.

The FEC briefly had four commissioners, a quorum that could take official action, back in May with the confirmation of GOP lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III. But shortly after he took his post, Caroline Hunter headed for the exit in July. 

Even when the FEC has its requisite six commissioners — three Republican and three Democratic picks — it is often gridlocked along party lines. 

Should Cooksey and Broussard win Senate confirmation, the FEC still would be short one commissioner. And two of the current three commissioners, including Walther, are operating on long-expired terms. The other one is Commissioner Ellen Weintraub. 

FEC commissioners are appointed for six-year terms. Weintraub, for example, has been on the commission since 2002. Advocates for stronger regulation of campaigns were not particularly excited by the Wednesday announcement.

"These new nominations are too little, too late," said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the campaign finance group Issue One. "It is a breach of trust with the American people that the Federal Election Commission has been missing in action most of this election cycle."

The Senate is not due back in session until after next week's election. Spokespeople for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the nominees would be considered during a lame duck session. 

“We continue to work towards (a full slate of) six new commissioners and look forward to getting a full Commission,” McConnell spokesman David Popp said in an email to CQ Roll Call in June.