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Former FEC Chairs Offer Bipartisan Endorsement of For The People Act

February 23, 2021 by Dan McCue
Gina Hammett, of Hinsdale, N.H., leaves the Millstream Community Center, in Hinsdale, after casting her vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary elections, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)

WASHINGTON – Two former chairs of the Federal Elections Commission — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — have thrown their support behind the election reform provisions of the For the People Act.

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate, Trevor Potter and Ann Ravel, said the agency they formerly chaired has failed to protect the integrity of the federal campaign process.

Instead, said Potter, who was appointed to the board by former President George H. W. Bush, and Ravel, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said the process has become tainted by a lack of transparency and the commission’s failure to fairly enforce campaign finance law.

“Over roughly the past decade, the FEC has routinely failed to enforce the law, even when presented with overwhelming evidence of likely legal violations,” the former commissioners said in a letter distributed by the Campaign Legal Center. “For example, every election cycle reveals new instances of super PACs and candidates working hand-in-glove, and yet the FEC has never fined a super PAC for coordinating with a campaign.”

They continued by asserting “dark money grows dramatically each election cycle—reaching $750 million in 2020—yet the FEC refuses to enforce the disclosure laws on the books. 

“This inaction has resulted in an explosion in secret spending and our politics increasingly rigged in favor of wealthy special interests,” Potter and Ravel wrote. “Moreover, even as Supreme Court decisions and rapidly evolving technological practices have transformed the electoral landscape, the FEC has failed to meaningfully update its regulations.

“For example, more than $2 billion was spent on digital political ads in the 2020 cycle, but the FEC has not updated its digital ad regulations since 2006; indeed, for the past eight years, the FEC has been unable to agree on how to update regulations that refer to technologies such as ‘telegrams,’ ‘typewriters,’ and ‘magnetic diskettes.’

“Since 2012,” they lament, “the FEC has issued just one substantive regulation, regarding the technical question of how to report multistate independent expenditures and electioneering communications.”

In a written statement, Potter, who is president of the Campaign Legal Center, said that for the first three decades of its existence, the FEC performed its functions “at least reasonably well.”

“But since then, the FEC has grown deeply dysfunctional, and our democracy has suffered as a result,” he said. “To fix the FEC, the For the People Act draws from the bipartisan Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act, which was introduced with Republican and Democratic co-sponsors in the last three sessions of Congress.” 

Under current law, the FEC is led by six Commissioners nominated by the president, no more than three of whom can be from the same political party. The political custom is that nominees are recommended by party leaders in Congress. It takes a vote of four of those Commissioners to write new rules or take any substantive action. The current structure of the FEC means that any three Commissioners can paralyze the agency. 

“As political spending increases and the online political advertising landscape becomes more complicated and in need of regulation, the very agency we need to ensure the health of our democracy is ineffectual,” said Ravel, Digital Deception project director at MapLight. “It’s time for Congress to help restore public trust in government and our elections by enacting meaningful changes to the FEC and passing the For the People Act.”

The former FEC Commissioners said the For the People Act would restructure the agency in three ways. 

It would change the number of Commissioners from six to five, with the requirement that no more than two Commissioners be members of the same political party; create a nonpartisan advisory panel to identify and recommend qualified nominees; and strengthen the enforcement process to prevent Commissioners from shutting down investigations at an early stage.

The FEC’s inaction has resulted in an explosion in secret spending and our politics increasingly rigged in favor of wealthy special interests, the former commissioners said. 

“To reduce political corruption and protect the voices of voters in our democracy, we need a stronger FEC that will enforce campaign finance law. The For the People Act would fix the FEC,” they concluded. 

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