Quantcast

Matthew S. Peterson leaves Federal Election Commission

Enforcement of campaign finance laws in jeopardy

Lisa Fitch OW Contributor | 9/12/2019, midnight

For information on how much money each one of the 2020 presidential candidates has raised, you have only to visit the Federal Election Commission (FEC) site: https://www.fec.gov/data/raising-bythenumbers/.

But the FEC is in charge of much more than recording candidate fundraising. Established in 1974, the commission is independent from the president’s cabinet. It’s the regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance laws and has jurisdiction over the financing of campaigns for the U.S. House; Senate; Presidency; and Vice Presidency. 

The effectiveness of the FEC has recently been in question, in light of the August resignation of Matthew S. Peterson, its Republican vice chairman. Until his seat is filled, the FEC will not have the necessary quorum to function and there will be no enforcement of federal campaign finance laws or issuance of election opinions. 

His departure leaves just three commissioners at the agency. When fully staffed, there are six members, split evenly along political lines. The FEC rules require four members to establish a voting quorum.

Remaining commissioners include: Democrat Ellen Weintraub; Republican Caroline C. Hunter; and Independent Steven T. Walther. President Donald Trump currently has one Republic nomination, which is awaiting Senate confirmation and has not nominated a Democrat to fill any of the open seats.

Spending on political advertisements is expected to shatter records next year, so it is important to have the FEC to act as watchdog.

“With the campaign season in full swing, there is not time to waste in securing our democracy,“ said Trevor Potter, a former Republican head of the FEC. “Russia exploited a weak FEC to covertly meddle in U.S. Elections through digital ads and the FEC has a pending decision to tighten disclosure requirements.”

Kate Belinski is an election law attorney who, from 2008 to 2011, served as senior counsel to the past chair of the FEC. She was working at the FEC the last time it lacked a quorum—during the 2008 election year. 

“So the agency is going to keep chugging along, reviewing the reports, making reports available on website,” Belinski said, warning that the election cycle could be greatly affected by the resignation.

“Usually in election years there are advisory appeals,” Belinski said. “Without a quorum, the commission cannot issue advisory opinions.”

Additionally, it may take a while to fill the opening and when a nomination is approved, the commission will have to wade through a deep backlog to catch up.

The FEC mission is to protect the integrity of the federal campaign finance process by providing transparency and fairly enforcing and administering the federal campaign finance laws which set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and political action committees (PACs). 

The roles of the commission are to:

Administer public funding—determining which committees qualify for public funding and conducting audits of committees that receive funding

Facilitate disclosure—reviewing reports from committees

Clarify the law—making sure committees understand the laws

Enforce the law—with reviews, negotiations and/or fines.