Senate panel approves nominees to fill all FEC vacancies

But advocates worry about GOP picks’ stances on enforcement

For most of an election cycle in which billions were spent, the Federal Election Commission could not hold meetings or take enforcement actions because it did not have enough members. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
For most of an election cycle in which billions were spent, the Federal Election Commission could not hold meetings or take enforcement actions because it did not have enough members. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)
By Kate Ackley
Posted December 3, 2020 at 10:57am

The Senate Rules and Administration panel took a big step toward restoring a full slate at the Federal Election Commission, approving three nominees by voice vote Thursday.

If confirmed by the full Senate, the two Republicans and one Democrat would restore the beleaguered agency to its full slate of six commissioners. 

Shana M. Broussard, the Democrats' pick, who currently serves as counsel to FEC Commissioner Steven Walther, would be the agency’s first Black commissioner in its 45-year history.  

President Donald Trump formally nominated Broussard in late October, along with a Republican pick: Sean J. Cooksey, who serves as general counsel to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. The third nominee, whom the administration had previously picked, is Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, which favors deregulation of campaign finance.

The committee approved all three nominees by voice vote, but three Democrats — ranking member Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto — said they wanted it noted that they opposed the two GOP nominees. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted during the committee’s votes that the FEC had been created, in the aftermath of the 1970s Watergate scandal, to have three Democrats and three Republicans. He said Democrats' sweeping election and campaigns overhaul bill, dubbed HR 1, would change that ratio to 3-2, and he reiterated his opposition to that bill. 

The FEC spent most of the 2020 presidential election year without the minimum four members for a quorum, so it could not conduct meetings or take enforcement action. The FEC briefly had four commissioners in May after the confirmation of GOP lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III. But shortly after he took his post, Caroline Hunter headed for the exit in July.

The other two current commissioners, both picks of Democrats, are on expired terms. Ellen L. Weintraub has been at the commission since 2002. 

Outside groups that monitor campaign finance matters said they had problems with the two GOP nominees. 

“It is a travesty that the FEC has lacked the quorum necessary to conduct official business for the majority of the 2020 election cycle, during which a record $14 billion flowed into our elections,” Meredith McGehee, executive director of the campaign finance overhaul group, said in a statement. “But in order for the FEC to be the campaign finance watchdog the American people deserve, the agency must have commissioners who are dedicated to enforcing the anti-corruption laws that already exist.”

Dickerson, she said, had advocated for “less transparency” in election spending, while Cooksey has called GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas a mentor. McGehee said that was troubling because Cruz has called for the “eradication of campaign contribution limits.”  

A vote of the full Senate on the three nominees has not yet been scheduled.