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Dem FEC Commissioner Accepted Foreign Funding To Attend Event In Europe

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Andrew Kerr Investigative Reporter
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The staff of Ellen Weintraub, the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), sought to conceal from the public the identity of the foreign group who funded the commissioner’s appearance at an event last week in Lithuania after reports surfaced the election watchdog group was forced to cancel a previously scheduled meeting due to her attendance at the event.

Weintraub, the FEC’s only Democratic commissioner, traveled to Lithuania on April 12 to speak at a conference of international experts about best practices surrounding electronic reporting for political campaigns. The event was organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) — a division of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that carries out election observation in participating nation states.

Weintraub’s travel expenses to attend the event were paid for in full by the ODIHR, a foreign group that came under fire during the 2016 U.S. presidential election after sending observers to oversee polling places. The ODIHR was barred from being present at polls in nine states. The Texas attorney general threatened the group’s representatives with arrests if they came within 100 feet of a polling place.

The group purchased a two-way plane ticket for Weintraub to attend the event, a representative for the ODIHR told The Daily Caller News Foundation. The commissioner spent less than a day in Lithuania — she flew in and flew out, the day of the event, according to the representative.

However, Weintraub’s staff stripped out the fact the ODIHR paid for the commissioner’s trip to Lithuania and sponsored the event from the FEC’s Weekly Digest, a publication providing the public a summary of the federal electoral watchdog’s weekly activities.

The fact the ODIHR paid for Weintraub’s trip to Lithuania was present in the initial draft of the Digest, according to a source close to the FEC. But Weintraub’s staff requested the disclosure be removed after TheDCNF’s Ethan Barton reported her attendance at the international event forced the FEC to cancel a previously scheduled meeting.

Weintraub’s staff had the identity of her foreign sponsor removed from the final version of the Digest “for brevity,” the FEC vice chair’s staff member confirmed to TheDCNF.

In addition, the FEC approved foreign payment for Weintraub’s flight by a unanimous no-objection vote on April 11 — just one day prior to her flight, the staffer said.

Weintraub’s apparent last-minute decision to fly to Lithuania on the ODIHR’s dime put the FEC in a bind, forcing it to cancel an open meeting to rule on five pending actions.

“There won’t be a quorum. Vice Chair Weintraub won’t be here,” FEC spokeswoman Judit Ingram said of the canceled meeting last week.

Since the six-member FEC currently has two vacancies, if just one member doesn’t attend a meeting, the commission won’t meet the minimum quorum of four commissioners.

Ironically, just four days after Weintraub’s trip to Lithuania forced the FEC to cancel an open meeting, she warned the election watchdog group was in a “perilous state of affairs” because it risks being unable to meet a policy-making quorum if a third commissioner steps down.

“If there are any departures before additional confirmations, it will be impossible for the FEC to reach a policymaking quorum … this means that even if all remaining commissioners agreed on an outcome, the agency would have too few votes to execute its most consequential duties,” Weintraub’s tweet read.

Weintraub is known to take foreign-funded and taxpayer-funded trips abroad. In October 2014, for example, Weintraub and FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel traveled to Santiago, Chile, to attend an event four separate groups, including the Electoral Service of Chile, sponsored.

She’s also taken foreign-funded trips to Honduras and El Salvador in addition to at least four foreign-funded trips to Mexico during her time as a commissioner of the FEC, TheDCNF previously reported.

Taxpayers picked up the $9,200 tab for Weintraub’s trip to Indonesia in 2013 when she was serving as the FEC’s chairwomen.

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