A Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission voted against a Republican Senate candidate’s appeal of a campaign finance fine in 2007 but flip-flopped by voting in favor of Democrats in two recent cases covering the same issue, recently released records show.
The switch is evidence that Democratic commission members are behaving in a partisan manner, according to one former FEC commissioner.
FEC case records show that Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee, voted in Dec. 2007 to dismiss the appeal of a $6,500 fine levied against Steve Sauerberg, an Illinois Republican running for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin.
Sauerberg’s campaign submitted its third quarter campaign finance disclosure form 25 days late, according to case records published online.
The issue at hand was whether the FEC should impose fines on Senate candidates who file electronically and then file their paper-based forms later. The Senate is unique in that candidates are required to file paper reports.
Late-filing candidates are generally fined by the FEC, though they have the right to appeal.
Weintraub joined the FEC’s unanimous 5-0 decision to dismiss Sauerberg’s appeal and force his campaign to pay the fine.
Fast forward to December 2014.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, both Democrats, were slapped with FEC fines of $3,980 and $3,550, respectively, for failing to file their 2013 end-of-the-year campaign finance forms.
At a Dec. 16 hearing, Weintraub voted to dismiss those fines, contradicting her position in the Sauerberg appeal.
Weintraub was joined by another Democrat, Ann Ravel, who is now FEC chair. Three Republican commissioners and Steve Walther, the other Democratic member of the commission, voted to uphold the penalties against Boxer and McCaskill.
Besides Weintraub, Walther is the only commissioner to have voted on all three appeals. He voted to force all three candidates to pay fines.
Though structured to ensure partisan gridlock, many FEC watchers believe the commission has grown more partisan in recent years. That’s due in part to two big Supreme Court campaign finance decisions — Citizens United v. FEC and FEC v. McCutcheon. Democrats have generally favored more campaign finance regulations while Republicans have opposed more enforcements.
One critic of the growing partisanship and of Weintraub’s vote switch is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican member of the FEC and a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
“I think it is a bad sign of how certain Democratic commissioners are starting to act on a partisan basis, something that is very damaging to the FEC,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Caller.
“The commissioners have always enforced the law equally against both Republican and Democratic candidates on a nonpartisan basis,” continued von Spakovsky.
“Unfortunately, these votes by Commissioner Weintraub, with the concurrence of Chairwoman Ann Ravel in the latest vote on Boxer and McCaskill, show that they are now acting in a partisan manner in enforcement, which will completely destroy the credibility and effectiveness of the agency if they continue their behavior.”
Von Spakovsky said that if such behavior continues it would be grounds for Congress to demand Ravel’s resignation and to replace Weintraub.
Weintraub did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.