How a single Republican managed to completely derail the agency that oversees federal election law
The Federal Election Commission has continued to shrink in size: Republican Commissioner Matthew S. Peterson has announced his resignation, which will bring the FEC down to only three members.
With only three commissioners, the FEC, which enforces election law, won't be able to form a quorum — the minimum number of members — required to take substantial actions. As the New York Times reported, this includes: "holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations."
As the 2020 presidential election is only 15 months away, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow finds Peterson’s departure to be a “very alarming” development — and Maddow voiced her concerns when FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub appeared on her show on Monday night.
Maddow asked Weintraub, a Democrat, if she could assure her that Peterson’s departure is “not as bad as it seems.”
“Well, it’s not great," the chair responded. "It’s definitely not great, Rachel. But I want to assure the American people that the agency is not closing its doors. We have a dedicated staff who will continue to show up for work every day, and we will make sure that we fulfill our core mission of disclosure — of following the money and making sure the American people can follow the money, and finding out who is supporting which candidates, and how they’re spending their money.”
Weintraub quickly added, however, that lacking a quorum poses some major problems for the FEC.
“It is definitely not good for us not to have a quorum because we can continue to do investigations that have already been authorized, but we can’t authorize any new investigations,” Weintraub told Maddow. “We can’t issue any rules. We can’t issue any advisory opinions.”
Weintraub added, “We’ve been limping along with four members for a while now…. It’s hard to maintain a quorum when you’ve only got the bare four.”
The FEC chair told Maddow that it would be quite possible for new FEC commissioners to be nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate “in fairly short order if they decide to do so.” But when the FEC “ran out of a quorum” in 2008, Weintraub noted, it “took months before they decided to fill the empty seats and bring us back to full strength.”
“I am sincerely hoping we are not going to run into that situation again,” Weintraub told Maddow.