As 2020 fundraising nears a record high, America’s campaign finance laws are sure to be tested leading up to Election Day.
Yet the federal agency that oversees campaign finance law—the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — remains shuttered. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
For more than 100 days, the FEC has been unable to do its job because three seats on the six-member FEC are now vacant, meaning the agency is one commissioner short of a “quorum.” Without a quorum, the FEC cannot resolve enforcement actions against those accused of violating campaign finance laws, nor introduce new rules or clarify old ones for the political candidates and groups forced to abide by them.
On the one hand, the FEC’s deadlock proves the agency isn’t as indispensable a part of our democracy as many claim, particularly as FEC reports continue to be filed. It serves as a stark reminder of how much the agency’s raison d’être had become keeping political outsides out through byzantine rules, complex processes, uneven enforcement, and the activist agendas of certain FEC commissioners.
On the other hand, the status quo isn’t exactly ideal. Without a functioning FEC, those who would abuse their power and break the law for political gain are only emboldened to do so. Corrupt political elites and operatives know the lack of enforcement presents an opportunity to court excessive contributions, conceal illicit money trails, and commit other transgressions.
Perhaps the greatest example comes from 2016, when the Clinton machine solicited $84 million in excessive six-figure contributions, laundered through the Hillary Victory Fund to dozens of Democratic state parties acting as “straw men,” over to the Democratic National Committee, and into the hands of Clinton’s campaign. Straw man contributions were made by liberal elites from Hollywood to Wall Street and everywhere in between, including fashion icon Calvin Klein, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, liberal media executives, and others.
And that all happened while the FEC was still fully operational! Even then, the FEC refused to hold Clinton accountable. What’s to come in 2020, with a crippled agency?
So who’s to blame for our current predicament? Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer deserves the lion’s share for this mess. Schumer has consistently refused to honor the tradition of the Senate minority leader recommending names to be nominated to nonpartisan and bipartisan commissions, including the FEC. The Senate has traditionally filled two seats at the same time, pairing a Republican and Democrat, each recommended by the leaders of their respective parties — that of the president and the opposing party’s Senate leader.
However, Schumer refuses to make a serious recommendation to fill the Democratic vacancy at the FEC, or replace the existing Democratic commissioners on long-expired terms. If he wanted to act, he could do so today.
But the logjam serves his purpose: Schumer and other Democrats can endlessly complain about the very problem they created and blame President Trump for it, while they flout the rules themselves. Seemingly with each passing week, another Democratic mega-donor is caught up in the scheme to conceal large sums of illegal campaign contributions to Clinton in 2016.
Of course, Schumer isn’t alone. One of the FEC’s Democratic commissioners, Ellen Weintraub, has long gone rogue, choosing to propagandize against President Trump and for her policy preferences, instead of enforcing campaign finance law.
Weintraub continues to crusade against political advertising, claiming such information “divides our democracy” — thereby promulgating her own views as binding agency policy. You see, Weintraub’s worldview dictates that the American people are simply too stupid or too naive to process electoral information, leaving it up to rogue bureaucrats like her to regulate political speech. If she needs #FakeLaws to control the masses, then so be it.
Do we really need unelected ideological hacks policing our speech? What bureaucrats like Weintraub should be doing is their job — their actual job. And that job is to get the FEC up and running again, so the campaign finance process can go back to normal.
Anything less is simply unacceptable. Anything less is an unprecedented threat to our legal system.
Dan Backer is founding attorney of Political.law, a campaign finance and political law firm in Alexandria, Virginia. He is a veteran campaign counsel who has served more than 100 candidates, PACs and political organizations.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.