Politico

Federal campaign finance watchdog has full slate for first time in years


The Senate voted to confirm three commissioners to the Federal Elections Commission on Wednesday, restoring a quorum to the embattled agency and giving the government’s top campaign finance watchdog its first full slate of commissioners in years.

The Senate voted to confirm Allen Dickerson, Sean Cooksey and Shana Broussard, doubling the number of commissioners to a full complement of six. All three were nominated by outgoing President Donald Trump, although Dickerson and Cooksey are Republicans and Broussard is a Democrat. (By law, the FEC cannot have more than three commissioners from the same party.)

The agency has been without a quorum of four commissioners for most of 2020, leaving it unable to enforce campaign finance rules, hold hearings or issue guidance to campaigns. It lost its quorum in August 2019 when then-commissioner Matthew Petersen left, before briefly regaining it in May 2020 when Trey Trainor, a Republican election attorney, was confirmed to one of the open seats. But that was short-lived, following the departure of Caroline Hunter from the agency in early July.

Dickerson, Cooksey and Broussard will join Trainor, who is currently the agency’s chair, along with Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub and independent Steven Walther, who has historically voted with Democratic appointees.

It is the first time the agency has a full slate since 2017, and ends a streak of a majority of commissioners serving on expired terms, with commissioners allowed to serve past the end of their term until a replacement is confirmed. (Both Weintraub and Walther currently serve on expired terms.)

As of late, some good government groups have sued the agency over a lack of enforcement — which, because it did not have a quorum, was unable to vote to defend itself in court, a particular frustration among some of the commissioners.

Of the three new commissioners, Dickerson has the longest public track record. He previously worked as the legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, which generally takes an anti-regulatory approach toward campaign finance, arguing that many represent restraints on First Amendment rights. Cooksey served as general counsel to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), while Broussard was most recently counsel to Walther.

Broussard’s confirmation also marks a historic milestone for the agency, making her the first person of color to serve as a commissioner since the agency’s founding in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Contrary to a popular misconception, the FEC does not deal with election administration, with its mandate focused on federal campaign finance law enforcement. Republicans have long dogged Weintraub for her comments on election administration that go well outside the bounds of the agency, where she has been particularly active about pushing back against attacks on mail voting and the integrity of the election at large.

But she is far from alone: Trainor, whose chairmanship is largely ceremonial and rotates on a yearly basis, has been “floating baseless election fraud conspiracy theories” as of late, The Daily Beast recently reported, including appearances in fringe media channels to push those theories. He has cited the conspiracy theorist attorney Sidney Powell on “rampant voter fraud.”

During a mid-November nomination hearing, some of the new commissioners signaled they saw an expanded role for commissioners in talking about elections.

Dickerson noted that other agencies were better-equipped to handle that task, but Broussard said “part of the responsibility” of a commissioner is to “promote the integrity” of the election. Cooksey largely concurred, saying, “FEC commissioners are public figures and have a broader responsibility” beyond the agency’s campaign finance mandate.

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