The Kentucky Republican Party is alleging campaign finance wrongdoing by a radio host considering a longshot bid for Mitch McConnell's Senate seat. But the complaint won't ever get answered without the help of the Senate majority leader himself.
That's because the case has been filed with the Federal Election Commission, which is now into its third month without the minimum membership necessary to begin even the most routine enforcement proceedings. And the reason for that is Kentucky's own McConnell. In his view the FEC that regulates best is the one that regulates least, and so he's bottled up the nomination that would give the agency a four-person quorum.
Ravel is the digital deception project director at MapLight and was a member of the Federal Election Commission from 2013 to 2017. She is now running as a Democrat for the California Senate.
Five years ago, as vice chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, I wrote a statement calling on the commission to discuss online political messaging, which was and still is completely exempt from federal campaign finance disclosure laws. While I didn't foresee exactly what would happen over the next half-decade — Russia's interference in the United States' elections, the rise of the far-right aided by social media and the proliferation of digital disinformation — I did see that political campaign communications were increasingly moving online. If left unregulated, digital media posed an enormous threat to democracy as we know it and I wanted the FEC to discuss this.
The day after my statement, another commissioner, Lee Goodman, appeared on "Fox & Friends" to argue that I was trying to "censor" free speech online. Following his appearance, my Twitter account and FEC email were flooded with misogynistic and anti-Semitic messages and death threats. One email was even signed "Heil Hitler."
Though this was my first personal experience with individuals citing the First Amendment to push back, violently, against the notion of disclosure, it was far from my last. Ever since Bradley Smith in 2001 published "Unfree Speech" — which asserts the First Amendment requires the repeal of all restrictions on campaign finance giving — the concept of free speech has been pitted against campaign finance disclosure. Just last month, Goodman called on this familiar rhetoric to argue against having an FEC symposium about online disinformation.
Just in time for the first presidential debate of the fall, Joe Biden has laid out a plan for improving government ethics and campaign finance regulation that adds more substance to a democracy reform agenda he hasn't been very vocal about.
But the former vice president's package still does not come close to the expansiveness or specificity of the "good government" proposals of Elizabeth Warren, who currently stands near Biden as the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, or the other top-tier presidential candidates.
Whether these issues get any air time when a dozen of the candidates meet Tuesday night is an open question, however. To the dismay of democracy reform advocates, and in defiance of polling that shows fixing the system's brokenness is among the voters' top desires, the issue received only minimal attention in the three debates so far.
One reason may be that the debate moderators have chosen to emphasize the differences among the candidates on the most prominent issues likely to define President Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, and the dozen Democrats on stage in Ohio stand in broad agreement on most of the top proposals for improving democracy.
This article has been updated following an interview with Weintraub.
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub has been accused of ethical violations that had been previously leveled — and dismissed — two years ago.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Weintraub responded to a letter sent that same day by Rep. Rodney Davis, ranking member of the House Administration Committee, requesting an investigation into Weintraub for potential violations of federal ethics regulations.
"It's a retread on a complaint made two years ago by a Koch Brother-funded group," Weintraub told The Fulcrum on Friday afternoon. The inspector general's office looked into it and didn't find any evidence. It's the same stuff all over again."
- Using government time and official FEC resources to publish her opinions on political matters.
- Discussing issues outside the purview of the FEC in national media appearances.
- Refusing to recuse herself from matters involving President Trump, despite a perceived bias against him and "apparent conflict of interest."