Most of 2020 was spent with the organization lacking a quorum.
The Federal Election Commission now has a quorum after the Senate votes to approve three members on Wednesday. This is the first time in years that the government's main campaign finance watchdog has had a complete slate of commissioners.
As a result of the Senate's vote to approve Allen Dickerson, Sean Cooksey, and Shana Broussard, there are now a total of six commissioners. Even though Broussard is a Democrat and Dickerson and Cooksey are Republicans, outgoing President Donald Trump nominated all three. (The FEC is only allowed a maximum of three commissioners from one party, per law.)
For the majority of 2020, the agency lacked a quorum of four commissioners, which prevented it from enforcing campaign financing laws, holding hearings, or giving campaign advice. When former commissioner Matthew Petersen resigned in August 2019, the commission lost its quorum. It briefly regained it in May 2020 after Republican election lawyer Trey Trainor was confirmed to one of the open seats. However, that didn't last long because Caroline Hunter left the agency in the first few days of July.
Along with Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub and Independent Steven Walther, who frequently votes with Democratic appointments, Trainor, who now serves as the agency's chair, will be joined by Dickerson, Cooksey, and Broussard.
It is the first time the agency has a full slate since 2017 and puts an end to a trend in which the majority of commissioners were continuing to serve after their terms had ended. This practice continued until a replacement was confirmed. (Walther and Weintraub are now serving terms that have expired.)
Recently, some good government organizations have filed lawsuits against the agency for a lack of enforcement; however, because there was no quorum, the agency was unable to vote to defend itself in court, which particularly infuriated some of the commissioners.
Dickerson has served in public office the longest of the three new commissioners. Before this, he served as the legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, a group that generally opposes campaign financing regulations and claims that many of them place restrictions on First Amendment rights. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) employed Cooksey as his general counsel, and Walther most recently used Broussard as his attorney.
As the first person of color to hold the position of commissioner since the agency was established in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Broussard's confirmation also represents an important turning point for the organization.
Contrary to popular belief, the FEC's mandate is an organization centered on federal campaign finance law enforcement rather than election management. Republicans have long pursued Weintraub for her views on election management that go much beyond the purview of the organization, where she has been particularly active in defending the integrity of the election in general and attacks on mail voting in particular.
However, she is not alone: The Daily Beast recently revealed that Trainor has recently been "floating spurious election fraud conspiracy theories," including appearances in fringe media channels to peddle those theories. Trainor's chairmanship is essentially ceremonial and rotates annually. On "rampant voter fraud," he referenced conspiracy theory lawyer Sidney Powell.
Some of the new commissioners indicated they saw an enhanced role for commissioners in discussing elections during a nomination hearing in mid-November.
Dickerson pointed out that other organizations were more suited to undertake that duty, but Broussard insisted that "promot[ing] the integrity] of the election" is "part of the role" of a commissioner. Generally speaking, Cooksey agreed, stating that "FEC commissioners are public figures and have a broader role" outside of the organization's primary focus on campaign money.
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