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Kilmer, Fitzpatrick Out to Restore Integrity of America’s Election Watchdog

February 25, 2021 by TWN Staff
A polling place. (Tang Man/Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., have launched an effort to untangle the increasingly common deadlocks at the Federal Elections Commission and enable it to more effectively carry out its mission to oversee and enforce campaign finance laws.

On Wednesday, the two congressmen introduced the bipartisan Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act which would change the agency’s leadership structure by reducing the number of appointed commissioners from six to five, with two members from each major party and one independent.

Kilmer and Fitzpatrick note that in 2016, because of the longstanding even partisan divide of its six commissioners, nearly 40% of regular enforcement cases deadlocked, compared to 4.2% in 2006.

Worse yet, they say, those votes that did not deadlock were nearly all housekeeping matters or minor violations.

They contend the simple change in the number of commissioners would end those deadlocks, and would bring the FEC more in line with how most other independent agencies are structured, while ensuring the president’s party would not hold the majority.

Additionally, the legislation creates a blue-ribbon advisory panel, convened by the president to recommend individuals for appointment to the Commission.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“The Federal Elections Commission was set up to be the referee, tasked with blowing the whistle on politicians and groups that cheat and undermine the interests of ‘We the People,’” Kilmer said. “Unfortunately, in recent years, the ref often hasn’t even been on the field with the Commission often seeming more dysfunctional than even Congress.

“It’s time to get the referee back on the field. That’s what this bill is about. 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.

Fitzpatrick urged his colleagues to support the bill, reminding them that, “the very foundation of our democracy is based upon the American people’s faith in our electoral system.

“Now, more than ever, it is vitally important we take steps to rebuild that faith,” he said. “Ending the partisan gridlock at the Federal Election Commission will both increase transparency and re-instill confidence in the American people that all campaigns are held accountable and adhere to the same set of rules.”

“Free and fair elections are a central principle of our democracy” agreed Van Holen. “But the FEC has been mired in gridlock, leaving a campaign finance free-for-all that allows the voices of big corporations and special interests to drown out everyday Americans. It’s past time we put an end to it.”

The legislation is endorsed by: Democracy21, End Citizens United, Common Cause, and Public Citizen.

On Tuesday, two former FEC Commissioners, Trevor Potter and Ann Ravel, endorsed provisions of the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act in the For the People Act in a letter to Congressional leadership.

“Democracy 21 applauds Sens. Van Hollen and Lujan and Rep. Kilmer for introducing the Restoring Integrity to America’s Election Act which would repair the hopelessly ineffectual Federal Election Commission,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy21.

“The FEC is broken, roiled in partisan gridlock,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “Under the current system, the party leaders of the senate select commissioners, which has carried over the same party polarization that has plagued Congress to the FEC. Deadlocked votes along party lines have gone from fewer than 2% through most of the agency’s history to a stifling 34% today, rendering the FEC toothless and dysfunctional.

“Restoring the Integrity of America’s Elections Act is critically-needed legislation that would end these partisan deadlocks and bring the campaign finance cop back on the beat,” he said.

Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, said there has never been a more critical moment to restore failth in elections and other bedrock institutions.

“Our country depends on a functioning Federal Election Commission that will actually enforce our nation’s campaign finance laws and meet the challenges of the 21st century. Passing the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act is a necessary first step to address political dysfunction, and we commend Rep. Kilmer and Rep. Fitzpatrick for their bipartisan support on this important issue,” McGehee said.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here. Bill text can be found here

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