Moscow Mitch has effectively killed one more line of defense of our elections: The FEC

Moscow Mitch has effectively killed one more line of defense of our elections: The FEC
Mitch McConnell image via Screengrab

The Federal Election Commission became toothless this week, incapable of enforcing election law, with the resignation of its vice chairman, Matthew Petersen. The FEC no longer has enough commissioners to gather the legal minimum of four members for a quorum, meaning it can't make decisions. Who's to thank for that? Who else? Moscow Mitch McConnell.


The FEC was formed in 1974 by the Federal Election Campaign Act, which set contribution limits for individuals, political parties, and PACS. Commissioners from each party are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate for rotating six-year terms, and no party is allowed to hold a working majority of seats. Nominees are traditionally appointed in pairs: one Democrat, one Republican. Their six-year terms are staggered so two members—one Democrat and one Republican—complete their terms every two years. Theoretically. The catch is that, if no successor is confirmed, the commissioners stay on indefinitely, as long as they are willing.

Since McConnell—who has built his latter career on destroying campaign finance law—became majority leader in 2015, not a single commissioner has been confirmed. His opposition stretches back to his time as minority leader as well. In 2009, President Obama nominated labor lawyer John J. Sullivan for a seat. He received a unanimous vote from the Senate Rules Committee in June of that year, and then ... never got a vote. He withdrew his nomination a little more than a year later because the Senate wasn't going to vote on it. Because McConnell wouldn't work with Obama to name a companion Republican nominee, and Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold—the campaign finance dynamic duo—filibustered.

So what does that mean now? The FEC can't "conduct meetings … slap political scofflaws with fines … make rules … conduct audits and approve them … vote on the outcome of investigations." What its staff can continue to do is "post campaign finance reports and attend to day-to-day functions," but "the commission itself can't offer official advice to politicians and political committees who seek it." In the words of Adav Noti, a former associate counsel at the FEC, what they can do "in absence of a quorum is push paper around. … Literally."

Former Democratic Chair Ann M. Ravel, who stepped down two years ago and has not been replaced, says, "Voters should be extremely concerned. … If you do not have the ability to do any kind of enforcement, then there isn't any kind of respect for the law." She warns, "It could end up being the Wild West." Which is precisely what the nation does not need a year before a presidential election in which the entire intelligence community is convinced Russia is going to interfere. The FEC has been deadlocked since 2018 on the issue of Russian interference, because it only had four members, two of each party. "We have reason to think there are foreign actors who are looking for every single avenue to try and influence our elections," said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, but her two proposals for new regulations were shot down by the two Republicans.

Just the way Moscow Mitch wants it to be. As long as he's majority leader, there won't be a functioning FEC, making it all the easier for Republican—and Russian—dirty tricks.

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