The change marks a departure from years of practice.

The change marks a departure from years of practice. adamkaz / iStock / Getty Images

The Campaign Finance Agency’s Press Shop Can’t Confirm or Deny the Existence of Complaints Anymore

Critics say the change, approved by the FEC last week in a vote that was not entirely along party lines, raises concerns about transparency.

The press shop for the nation’s campaign finance agency can no longer confirm or deny the existence of complaints of alleged violations it has received, departing from years of practice and raising concerns about transparency. 

The Federal Election Commission–an independent regulatory agency that administers and enforces federal campaign finance law–voted 4-2 on April 19 to enact this change. The vote was requested by FEC Commissioner Allen Dickerson, a Republican, citing legal advice from the agency’s Office of General Counsel in 2006 that was never followed, and was not completely along party lines. The two commissioners who voted against the change as well as several advocacy groups lambasted the decision, saying it hinders the agency’s ability to be transparent. 

FEC Chair Dara Lindenbaum, a Democrat, said in a statement on Tuesday explaining her vote for the measure that she appreciates the role the press plays as well as takes seriously her role in following the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act and its implementing regulations. “Upon learning that the commission’s press office was disclosing the existence of complaints in response to inquiries and that this practice was contrary to commission regulations and the commission’s office of general counsel's most recent assessment, I agreed with my fellow commissioners to take action to align FEC practices with its legal authority,” she wrote. 

However, Lindenbaum said that complainants may choose to share their concerns publicly and she welcomes “fresh petitions for rulemaking on this issue with ideas for how the commission can amend its regulations to allow for greater transparency and accountability.”

Dickerson, FEC Vice Chair Sean Cooksey and Commissioner James “Trey” Trainor III, all Republicans, also voted in favor of the measure. Commissioners Ellen Weintraub and Shana Broussard, both Democrats, voted against it. 

“This change undermines the commission’s transparency mission,” Broussard said. “The Federal Election Campaign Act requires complaints to be signed and sworn to, under penalty of perjury, and must be notarized,” which “safeguard[s] against frivolous complaints.” Therefore, “without the ability to confirm or deny the mere existence of a sworn complaint, the agency risks becoming a tool for politically motivated and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Similarly, Weintraub raised concerns that the decision will make the FEC less transparent. “The law allows us to confirm or deny the existence of a complaint; doing so is simply not the same thing as making the contents of a complaint public,” she said.

Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the role of money in politics, said on Wednesday that the FEC press office can “quash rumor-mongering” by those looking “to score political points” when it can confirm or deny receiving a complaint. He said he fears this will “incentivize political operatives to make baseless campaign finance allegations against political opponents and never be forced to back up those claims.” 

Two other groups submitted formal comments on the proposal ahead of the vote, both of which were against it. 

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, pushed back on the interpretation of the FEC regulations behind the change. 

“This extreme forced silence, beyond preserving the confidentiality of information and records obtained by the commission in the course of an investigation, will likely harm all parties involved, not the least of which is the credibility of the commission,” he wrote. 

Adav Noti, Erin Chlopak and Saurav Ghosh of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit focused on campaign finance and voting rights, argued the proposal was not consistent with the FEC’s enabling statute or regulations. Also, echoing complaints from the others, they wrote, “as a policy matter, it is not clear that the proposal would benefit anyone.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.