Allred Cosponsors Bill to Reform America’s Election Watchdog

September 17, 2019 by Dan McCue
"I voted" stickers in San Diego. (John Gibbins/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, is co-sponsoring a bipartisan effort to reform the Federal Election Commission so that it can enforce the nation’s campaign finance and election laws in a non-partisan manner.

The push to pass the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act comes in the wake of the resignation of Matt Petersen, a Republican appointment to the commission and most recently, its vice chairman.

Petersen’s departure left the FEC with only three of the six commission seats filled heading into the 2020 election cycle. In practical terms, that means the commission can’t legally call any meetings, issue fines, conduct audits, make rules or make decisions on investigations.

“As insidious forces at home and abroad try to influence our elections, [we] need an effective watchdog to enforce campaign finance laws and prevent bad actors from doing harm to our democracy,” Allred said.

“This is an issue where Democrats and Republicans alike are finding common ground. We must act to ensure our elections are secure and our laws are enforced,” he said.

The bill was introduced in February by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. At the time their concern was the FEC’s enforcement process. In 2006, the representatives said, the commission deadlocked on fewer than three percent of all major enforcement cases. That number jumped to 30 percent by 2016, they said.

“The foundation of our democracy is the American people’s confidence in our electoral system,” Fitzpatrick said at the time.

“Ending the partisan gridlock at the Federal Election Commission will increase transparency and give the American people confidence that campaigns are held accountable and everyone is following the same rules,” he added.

Kilmer quipped that the situation had gotten so out of hand that the “commission … has seen more gridlock than Congress.”

“Meaningful, substantial reforms at the Commission need to happen so it can get back to weeding out campaign finance abuse and holding those who skirt the rules accountable,” he said.

Although Petersen’s departure has put the FEC board on hold, the agency continues to issue requests for comment on proposed rulemaking and the like, and the staff continues to work.

The directive that lays out how work will be performed when there is not a quorum for commission is located here, beginning in the middle of page 5.

“Plenty of FEC operations are unaffected by the lack of a quorum,” Judith Ingram, the agency’s press officer, told The Well News.

“The staff is continuing to receive, disclose and analyze campaign finance reports, as well as continuing all work that does not require a vote by the commissioners,” she said.

“In some cases, the staff will be preparing work for whenever a quorum is restored. So even if there is no imminent vote on rulemaking, for example, staff can collect comments, draft texts, and the like,” Ingram added.

The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act would:

  • Change the number of commissioners from six to five, eliminating prominent result of stalemate decisions and inaction on important campaign finance matters;
  • Require that commissioners would be non-partisan, an effort to increase the independence of the FEC;
  • Establish an advisory Blue-Ribbon Commission to develop recommendations on nominees to fill vacancies on the Commission as they arise;
  • Prohibit recent politicians from serving as commissioners to preserve the independence of the commission;
  • Strengthen the role of the General Counsel so that enforcement matters move forward on such authority, unless the Commission affirmatively votes to override the General Counsel;
  •  Revise the qualifications for commissioners to focus on independence, public credibility, and professional experience in election law;
  • Designate to reviewing courts the power to decide whether agency action is contrary to law based on the merits of the complaints before them.

In March, House Democrats passed H.R. 1, a sweeping voting rights, campaign finance and ethics overhaul, by a vote of 234-193.

The bill was aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, cracking down on lobbying, and expanding voting rights for Americans by implementing provisions like automatic voter registration.

Since its passage, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to let the measure come up for a vote in his chamber.

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