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Congressman John Sarbanes

Representing the 3rd District of Maryland

Sarbanes Joins Bipartisan Group Calling on President Trump to Immediately Fill Vacant Seats on Federal Election Commission

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Feb 15, 2018
Contact: Daniel Jacobs
(202) 225-4016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) today joined a bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers in calling on President Donald Trump to fully staff the Federal Election Commission.

“Our nation needs an effective watchdog to respond in real-time, enforce our nation’s election laws, and provide guidance to incumbents and challengers as they navigate our federal election laws,” the Members wrote. “That is why we urge you to promptly nominate replacements for former Commissioner Ann Ravel and Commissioner Lee Goodman and to fill any further vacancies on the Commission without delay."

The FEC is the independent watchdog responsible for administering and enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws. Fully staffed, it is run by six bipartisan commissioners. Today, due to resignations and attrition, the FEC is in danger of having less than the minimum number of four commissioners required to conduct business, which is called a quorum. A lack of quorum would mean the agency could not conduct business.

New commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States. By law, the commission’s six leaders are split evenly between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Traditionally presidents have filled vacancies by appointing a pair of commissioners, one from each party, at the same time. Today, the bipartisan group of lawmakers asked President Trump to continue that tradition and appoint new commissioners so the Federal Election Commission can focus on the 2018 election cycle.

The full text of the letter is below.

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President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump,

We write today to express our concern with the current state of the Federal Election Commission (FEC).  As you know, the FEC is an independent regulatory agency responsible for administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws. The FEC is comprised of six bipartisan commissioners and any significant action taken by the Commission—such as rulemaking, investigations, levying fines, approving audits, and offering guidance to political committees—requires a minimum of four votes.

However, it appears that the Commission’s ability to operate at the required four-vote quorum is in jeopardy. Former Democratic Commissioner Ann Ravel’s seat has remained open since she resigned from the Commission in March 2017. Meanwhile, Commissioner Lee Goodman, a Republican, has announced his resignation from the Commission effective February 16, 2018, and Republican Commissioner Matthew Petersen faces an uncertain future following his recent withdrawal from consideration for an appointment to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition, all five Commissioners are currently serving in “holdover status” with their terms having already expired.

With two empty seats and one other hanging in the balance, the prospect of a shutdown looms over the Commission just as the 2018 election cycle approaches. Without a functioning FEC, there will be no federal agency overseeing violations of campaign finance law during the 2018 elections. This hurts honest candidates who are trying to follow the letter of the law and robs the American people of an electoral process with integrity.

Indeed, after the Commission shutdown nearly a decade ago due to an insufficient quorum, it created a backlog of enforcement actions. Even with a sufficient quorum in place, the Center for Public Integrity reports that the Commission has failed to collect nearly $1.3 million in unpaid fines from more than 160 political committees. This is troubling to say the least.  During your campaign, you pledged to the American people that you would “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. A critical part of that effort must be an effective, enforcement-minded Federal Election Commission.

Because the law limits each party to three or fewer members on the Commission, and Commissioners must be confirmed by the Senate, nominees have typically been submitted in pairs—one Republican and one Democrat. This helps build bipartisan consensus and greatly increases the chances that qualified nominees are confirmed. We believe this is a tradition you should continue.

Our nation needs an effective watchdog to respond in real-time, enforce our nation’s election laws, and provide guidance to incumbents and challengers as they navigate our federal election laws. That is why we urge you to promptly nominate replacements for former Commissioner Ann Ravel and Commissioner Lee Goodman and to fill any further vacancies on the Commission without delay.  

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