News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

Another roster of ideas for a Federal Election Commission revamp

A prominent progressive political reform group is out with proposals designed to end the dysfunction that's come to define the agency charged with regulating federal campaign finance law.

The recommendations issued this week by the Brennan Center for Justice include legislation to address the Federal Election Commission's well-documented voting gridlock, improve its leadership and give investigative teeth to an agency created to enforce campaign finance law.

"This is a moment where democracy reform is front and center, and FEC reform is something that we must tackle if we want to have a more functional electoral process," said Daniel Weiner, the author of the recommendations, which are directed at Congress.

The five specific ideas are:


  • End the mandatory partisan split. The FEC now has six seats, reserved equally for Republicans and Democrats on the theory that such a balance prevents partisanship from dominating the agency's work. But it now has just four commissioners, two from each party, and obtaining a majority for any proposal has proved nearly impossible. Shrinking the commission to five members, with one a political independent, would help break the partisan deadlock.
  • Make the vetting of nominees more inclusive. To ensure qualified FEC commissioners, the president would be required to convene an advisory panel from both parties to help choose nominees.
  • Give the commission a real leader. The chairmanship now rotates annually. Handing the gavel to a person the president chooses, as is the case at most federal regulatory agencies, would give the party in the White House a bit of an edge.
  • Eliminate indefinite holdovers. Commissioners are supposed to serve a single six-year term. Yet each of the current members has been in office more than a decade because a member may remain until a replacement wins Senate confirmation.
  • Overhaul the enforcement process. This proposal would create an enforcement bureau with investigative power, allow the agency to conduct random audits of fundraising committees and increase the agency budget to improve its staffing and resources.
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Open Government
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub

The struggle is real: FEC stalled on regulations for online political ads

The Federal Election Commission has once again punted on establishing rules for identifying who is sponsoring online political advertisements. Thursday marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which the topic fell to the wayside without a clear path forward.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub revived debate on the topic in June when she introduced a proposal on how to regulate online political ads. In her proposal, she said the growing threat of misinformation meant that requiring transparency for political ads was "a small but necessary step."

Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen and Commissioner Caroline Hunter put forth their own proposal soon after Weintraub, but the commissioners have failed to find any middle ground. At Thursday's meeting, a decision on the agenda item was pushed off to a later date.

Weintraub's proposal says the funding source should be clearly visible on the face of the ad, with some allowance for abbreviations. But Petersen and Hunter want to allow more flexibility for tiny ads that cannot accommodate these disclaimers due to space.

Keep reading... Show less
Open Government
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

California's Supreme Court is expediting President Trump's challenge to a new state law that would require him to release five years of tax returns in order to get on the state ballot for the 2020 election.

California court expedites Trump challenge to new tax returns requirement

The California Supreme Court is fast-tracking its review of a challenge to a new law that would require President Trump to make public his tax returns in order to get on the state's ballot for the 2020 election.

A lawsuit seeking to block implementation of the law was filed August 6 by the California Republican Party against Secretary of State Alex Padilla. It claims the law violates California's constitution.

Two other challenges, one filed by Trump's personal lawyers, are pending in federal court.

Keep reading... Show less