FEC departure leaves campaign finance watchdog hamstrung ahead of 2020
WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission’s announced Monday in a press release that its vice chairman, Matthew Petersen, “will be leaving the Commission at the end of this month.”
The resignation will render the commission unable to undertake many of its more high-profile functions like voting on enforcement actions, beginning rulemakings and initiating audits, one commissioner explained Monday.
With Petersen’s departure, only three commissioners will remain at the FEC, while a quorum of four is required to vote. The FEC, which is a politically independent body that normally has six commissioners with no more than three belonging to one political party, already had two vacant seats.
Commissioners are appointed by the White House, and President Donald Trump nominated one new commissioner in 2017 whose confirmation has still not been voted on by the Senate.
More: FEC chair Ellen Weintraub on Trump claims: ‘No evidence of rampant voter fraud in 2016’
Two other commissioners have already resigned during Trump’s presidency, the Washington Post has reported in February 2018.
The FEC enforces campaign finance laws, including the public reporting requirements about donations and expenditures for federal campaigns and PACs — information that will be of particular public interest during the 2020 presidential campaign.
Commissioner Caroline Hunter, a Republican, said in a separate statement Monday that “without a quorum, certain Commission activities will not take place. For example, the Commission will not be able to hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings.”
However, Hunter also said that much of the day-to-day commission activities will continue as normal. She pointed out that several divisions and offices of the commission will still be at work “answering questions, litigating cases, maintaining our website, conducting ongoing audits, and processing complaints, disclosure reports, and other filings.”
And in a separate statement posted on Twitter Monday, the current chair of the FEC Ellen Weintraub who is a Democrat, said that “the FEC will still be able to shine a strong spotlight of the finances of the 2020 campaign.” She added that reporting requirements will remain in effect, the public and the press will still have access to the campaign-finance information the FEC collects, the commission will continue to answer questions and its website will remain up and running, and its staff will continue to maintain the security of data.
Weintraub also wrote that “the FEC’s enforcement machinery will continue to operate,” with only the vote by commissioners being delayed due to the lack of a quorum. “Previously authorized investigations will continue,” she also wrote.
Petersen, who was a commissioner for 11 years, said in his resignation letter to the president that he is “proud of the many procedural reforms I helped craft that promote transparency and due process in Commission decision making.”
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Petersen may have left his post sooner when he was nominated by Trump in 2017 to serve as a U.S. District Court judge, but withdrew himself from consideration after struggling to answer questions at a Senate hearing.
Weintraub said of her colleague, “for 11 years, he has been a gracious and steady colleague on the Commission.”
Weintraub in recent weeks publicly criticized the president for making claims that he lost the state of New Hampshire during the 2016 election due to voter fraud.
“You have not, so far, provided any proof of these allegations,” she wrote to Trump.
In her separate statement Monday, Weintraub seemed to be speaking directly to Trump about the need to appoint new commissioners to the campaign finance watchdog agency.
“We do need a functioning quorum on the Commission,” she wrote, adding that the agency has “been on the razor’s edge” since a GOP commissioner’s departure in February 2018.
“Vice Chairman Petersen’s resignation makes it imperative that the President speedily nominate new Commissioners and the Senate move expeditiously to confirm them,” she concluded.