Senate GOP Poised to Confirm Controversial Trump Ally For Elections Board

March 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
Trey Trainor (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

WASHINGTON – A Senate panel held a confirmation hearing Tuesday on President Donald Trump’s GOP nominee to the Federal Election Commission, a hearing that could put him a simple majority vote away from confirmation by the full chamber.

The session ended without a vote and the nominee, James “Trey” Trainor, was told he has until Friday at noon to submit written answers to committee questions that either went unanswered or require being expanded upon.

Though the elevation of Texas election lawyer James “Trey” Trainor to the FEC board would give the board the quorum it needs to conduct business meetings and enforce federal election law, election transparency groups have blasted Trump’s pick for a number of reasons.

After Trump nominated Trainor, an advisor to the president’s 2016 election campaign, in September 2017, several organization’s came to object, including the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center,

They noted Trainor’s long-standing opposition to campaign finance regulation and his efforts to undo two of the core principles in Texas’ campaign finance law — financial disclosure and the public registration of lobbyists.

In 2014, they say, when the Texas Ethics Commission charged that Empower Texans, a powerful dark money group, had engaged in nearly $1 billion in secret election spending over a 10-year period, Trainor worked tirelessly to shield the organization from disclosing its donors.

Democrats, meanwhile, are objecting to GOP senators advancing a Republican nominee without an accompanying Democratic nominee, a longtime Senate tradition.

They contend that the Senate advances nominees to the FEC in bipartisan pairs.

In this case, Trump nominated Trainor to replace former Republican commissioner Matthew Petersen, who departed the commission last summer, without nominating the Senate Democrats’ pick to fill the Democratic vacancy on the commission. The FEC cannot have more than three members of the same political party.

These aren’t the only controversies surrounding Trainor’s nomination.

The Senate initially postponed taking it up after it was revealed Trainor shared anti-protestant messages on social media, including posts that said “Catholicism or nothing,” “Protestantism is poison,” and “there is only one church.”

In his opening marks before the committee Tuesday, Trainor sought to reduce concerns about whether he could be fair in his prospective post.

“I view the role of the FEC first and foremost as giving the American people confidence in our electoral system,” he said.

“If the Senate votes to confirm me to this post, I will approach my work at the FEC in an objective and methodical manner,” he added.

Democrats on the committee pressed Trainor on whether he would recuse himself from any matters involving the president, at times urging him to do so.

Trainor pushed back at this, explaining that he believed a promise to accept a “blanket” recusal on Trump-related matters inappropriate.

“My plan is to follow the same recusal regime as every other member of the commission,” he said, though he assured the committee he would consult with FEC oofficers on the appropriate steps to take if needed to recuse himself from any agency matters involving Trump.

In a Twitter post last week, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter, a former commissioner and chairman of the FEC board, said Trainor’s nomination “is yet another example of how the current nomination process produces commissioners who are opposed to the mission of the agency – resulting in an explosion in secret spending in elections.”

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor for the Atlantic, responded to the post by saying the nomination was “another example of norms broken.”

“Stacking the commission by choosing Republicans but not Democrats? If this is what #MoscowMitch and Trump are doing, Democrats will be justified in doing it when they have power. Disgraceful … ,” Ornstein said.

According to a recent report in Government Executive magazine, at the start of 2019, the FEC had 344 enforcement matters at various stages and 101 were awaiting commission action (such as a vote or dismissal).

In September, the commission’s current chair, Democrat Ellen Weintraub, reported the commission was able to get the numbers down to 272 for enforcement matters at all stages and 63 awaiting commission action.

However, with the loss of a quorum the caseload has increased to about 300 and the number of cases awaiting action rose to 119, Weintraub told the magazine last month.

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