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Good Government Groups Push for Nonpartisan Panel to Find FEC Commissioners 

They wrote to the White House and Senate leadership on Monday urging the speedy restoration of a quorum and then a panel to help fill the remaining seats.

A coalition of good government groups on Monday called on the White House and Senate leadership to restore a quorum at the Federal Election Commission, so it can resume its duties ahead of the 2020 election, and then establish a non-partisan panel to find the rest of the commissioners.

In a letter, the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, along with 20 other groups, stressed the importance of having a fully functioning agency to enforce the nation's campaign finance laws, but discouraged a rush to appoint a full slate commissioners who might not be dedicated to the agency’s mission. They offered a counter-approach to a bipartisan group of campaign finance lawyers’ letter to the White House and congressional leaders on Jan. 6 urging officials to “immediately” nominate and confirm the commissioners. 

“We support restoring the FEC’s quorum in advance of the 2020 election...But for the remaining vacancies, a nonpartisan blue-ribbon panel should be established to identify qualified candidates for the president’s potential nomination, and the Senate should decline to confirm any nominee who is not drawn from the panel’s recommendations,” the groups wrote. “Under no circumstances should the president nominate or the Senate confirm any individual who is opposed—whether for ideological, professional, or any other reason—to the enforcement of the duly enacted laws and regulations that protect the transparency and fairness of our elections.”

Adav Noti, Campaign Legal Center senior director of trial litigation and chief of staff, told Government Executive that good government groups have been advocating for this panel for a while. “I think there are a pretty good number of well-respected election lawyers who have skin in the game who could serve on a selection panel,” he said. “You could also have former judges who are familiar with the area of law.” A provision to create such a panel was in the democracy reform “2019 For the People Act” (H.R. 1) that the House passed last March.

The FEC has been without a quorum following the September resignation of Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen. The commission, which is supposed to have a six-member board, needs four members to hold meetings, start audits, create news rules and impose fines on those who violate campaign finance laws. The remaining three commissioners’ terms have expired, but they are remaining until replacements are confirmed. 

The groups argued that “the FEC’s problems preceded its recent absence of a quorum [and] those problems stem largely from the historical practice of nominating and confirming commissioners who are ideologically opposed to the mission of the agency and who block enforcement of our nation’s anti-corruption laws.” The Campaign Legal Center said problems the agency faces are lack of persistent quorums, deadlock votes on enforcement matters and some commissioners allegedly opposing the agency's mission. 

In September 2017, President Trump tapped Texas attorney Trey Trainor to be a commissioner, but the Senate has not voted on him yet.  The Senate has a tradition of voting on a Democrat and Republican together, Noti said. The Center for Public Integrity reported that the Democrats recommended the White House select Shana Broussard, an attorney and executive assistant to independent FEC commissioner Steven Walther, but there hasn’t been a formal nomination.

“We’re already seeing” the risks of not having a fully functioning FEC, Noti said. “There is a perception that there is no cop on the beat” for campaign spending. Additionally, he said public confidence in the democratic process is affected, especially after Russian interference attempts in the 2016 election and the House impeached Trump for allegedly holding up security aid to Ukraine until it investigated his political rivals.