In what is being hailed as a victory for campaign finance transparency, the Supreme Court has rejected an attempt to keep secret the name of a donor who gave $1.7 million to a Republican super PAC eight years ago.
The decision holds some potential to make it more difficult for so-called dark money groups to shield the identities of their biggest contributors in this campaign season and beyond. Increasing sunlight on the forces pouring so many millions into American politics is a main goal of democracy reform groups at a time when increased regulation is not a realistic hope.
The high court on Monday let stand an appeals court's ruling that the donor — a trust fund and its trustee identified only as "John Doe" in court filings — has no right to remain anonymous and may be publicly identified by the Federal Election Commission.
Much to the chagrin of good governance groups, it appeared clear Tuesday that conservative campaign lawyer Trey Trainor is on his way to a seat on the Federal Election Commission.
Republicans said nothing at all critical, Democrats said nothing supportive and Trainor said almost nothing revelatory about his views during a Senate confirmation hearing lasting less than an hour and a half.
The pro forma nature of the proceedings was a clear signal that, as he runs for re-election, President Trump will be able to break with precedent by adding just one person, and from his own party, to the panel charged with regulating how presidential, congressional and outsider organizations raise and spend campaign contributions.
Without enough commissioners for a quorum, the Federal Election Commission has been a toothless watchdog for more than six months. Senate Republicans have now decided to reopen the agency that regulates federal campaign financing for the rest of the political season, but only for the most routine business, by adding a down-the-line conservative as the fourth commissioner.
Trey Trainor, an attorney in Austin and lawyer for the Texas Republican Party, reports Tuesday morning for his Senate confirmation hearing — 29 months after President Trump first nominated him.
Since there's no filibuster on nominations, Democrats who oppose Trainor's emphatic deregulatory approach to money in politics will not be able to prevent his confirmation as the first new FEC member in seven years. But since substantive FEC action requires four votes, it's highly likely Trainor will most often be joining the other conservative in a 2-2 deadlock for the foreseeable future.
If the Federal Election Commission can't get its act together, the Campaign Legal Center is going to take matters into its own hands.
The nonpartisan group, which advocates for tougher money-in-politics regulations, has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to take over a complaint it's submitted to the FEC.
That complaint is among more than 300 gathering dust at the agency's offices. That's because the FEC has been effectively shut down for more than six months, unable to conduct any oversight of the financing of 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns. Four commissioners have to be on the job for substantive business to get done, and there have been just three since Republican Matthew Petersen resigned at the end of August.