Ann Ravel, the Democratic chair of the Federal Election Commission, wants to find out why relatively few women hold political office, and has announced that she will hold a public forum next month to get to the bottom of it.
But the event, scheduled for May 12, is raising eyebrows because it goes beyond the FEC’s stated mission of enforcing federal campaign finance laws and because it is seen, as one conservative election attorney told The Daily Caller, as a ploy to “pick winners and losers.”
“The purpose of the forum is to begin an open discussion with scholars, social scientists, political practitioners and the public to consider why, despite recordbreaking numbers of women in the 114th Congress, women remain significantly under-represented in politics at all levels of government,” reads Ravel’s formal invitation to the event, which is open to the press and the public.
The event is split into two sessions. The first seeks to answer the questions: “Why are women under-represented in elected political office? What barriers do women face in political fundraising? How has the federal campaign finance system helped or hurt women seeking political office?”
The second session asks: “How can we encourage women to seek elected political office? Are women-focused fundraising PACs the solution? How have other countries successfully fostered women’s participation in the political process? What lessons can the United State learn from such programs?”
Ravel’s forum invite comes on the heels of two recent announcements made by the most prominent female politician in the country. Hillary Clinton announced her 2016 presidential bid on Sunday and also said earlier this week that she favored a constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending.
That despite reports that the multimillionaire Clinton hopes to raise at least $2.5 billion to fund her second presidential run.
Ravel’s announcement caught some campaign finance watchers off guard. Michael Toner, who served as FEC chairman during George W. Bush’s presidential term, weighed in on Twitter.
Not sure why the FEC is sponsoring a forum on women in politics, but it looks like an interesting event nevertheless:http://t.co/t1BVm52TgB
— Michael Toner (@michaeletoner) April 15, 2015
Cleta Mitchell, a conservative political law attorney, said that Ravel’s forum is out of line with the FEC’s function and that it indicates she might be biased toward female candidates, like Clinton.
“It is outside the scope of the agency’s federal statute, which is to enforce the federal campaign finance laws,” Mitchell told TheDC, emphasizing that “it is not the agency’s role to pick winners and losers, to decide that some candidates are more worthy than others, or anything of that nature.”
“This would call into question Commissioner Ravel’s independence should there be allegations of legal violations by a female candidate — such as Hillary Clinton,” Mitchell continued.
“The procedures are irregular. This is outside the scope of the agency’s statutory authority. It is a misuse of taxpayer dollars, it jeopardizes the required neutrality of judgment of the Commissioners in any legal proceeding and is a complete departure from the historic or appropriate conduct of the Commission.”
Ravel’s invitation gave no indication of who would be invited to present at the forum.