The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent agency of the United States government and is charged with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws. The Commission’s jurisdiction covers all elections for President, United States Senate, and for the United States House of Representatives. Its stated mission is to protect the integrity of the federal campaign finance process by providing transparency and by enforcing federal campaign finance laws.
The resignation of the vice-chair of the FEC, Matthew Petersen, on August 26th, left the sole agency tasked with overseeing and enforcing campaign-finance laws without a quorum to levy fines, initiate investigations, or respond to foreign interference. The Federal Election Commission is supposed to be composed of six members appointed by the president of the United States and subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Each member serves a six-year term. By law, no more than three commissioners can be members of the same political party and at least four votes are required for any official commission action. As of May, the F.E.C. had a backlog of nearly three hundred cases, some dating back to 2012, forty-five of which bumping up against a five-year statute of limitations that may the actions moot. Since last year, only four of its six commissioner posts have been filled, making it difficult to get the four votes necessary for action, now even that slim chance does not exist.
It was reprehensible that the Commission had been two commissioners short for months, leaving it with a three to one majority for the Republicans, but now the commission cannot act on any cases that come before it. Worse yet, the Commission’s on-going debate over holding digital platforms to the same laws and standards as print, television, and radio is now completely dead. I can think of very few issues in our country more pressing than making certain our elections are fair and untainted by outside influence. The most frightening part of the lack of a FEC that can act is that once the validity of Federal Elections comes further into question so does our Democracy as a whole.