September 20, 2023
WASHINGTON - Today, the Committee on House Administration held a full committee hearing entitled, "Oversight of the Federal Election Commission." This is the first Federal Election Commission (FEC) oversight hearing in over a decade.
Dara Lindenbaum - Chair, Federal Election Commission
Sean Cooksey - Vice-Chair, Federal Election Commission
Shana Broussard - Commissioner, Federal Election Commission
James “Trey” Trainor - Commissioner, Federal Election Commission
Ellen Weintraub - Commissioner, Federal Election Commission
Allen Dickerson - Commissioner, Federal Election Commission
Christopher Skinner - Inspector General, Federal Election Commission
In case you missed it, here are the top takeaways:
1. Certain FEC procedures must be updated to ensure the safety and security of our American elections. The ACE Act would implement these important reforms.
Subcommittee on Elections Chair Laurel Lee (FL-15): "In the American Confidence in Elections Act, which is a piece of legislation that passed out of our committee just few months ago, we require a unanimous vote of the Commissioners in order to decline to defend the agency in court. Do you believe this would be a positive change?"
Cooksey: "Absolutely. I would strongly encourage Congress to change the statute that governs how the agency defends itself. I think it's frankly a scandal for the federal government to not show up in federal court to defend itself."
Representative Stephanie Bice (OK-05): "Can you talk a little bit about the cost increases and what we can do to address it?"
Cooksey: "Since I joined the commission, as every member is aware, the volume of transactions and contributions that we report is increasing exponentially over the last few cycles. The I.T. infrastructure has not kept pace we need additional investments in order to keep our I.T. at state-of-the-art."
Congressman Mike Carey (OH-15): "How would you describe the morale at the FEC, in your office in general?"
Skinner: "That's a good question. That's something that my office has started to inquire on - we're currently looking into how that type of review would look. I can tell you from a 2021 survey the FEC ranked last for employee satisfaction and engagement so that's definitely something we noted in some minor reports and in our management challenges document to Congress."
2. American elections should be only for American citizens. The ACE Act will help prevent foreign interference in American elections.
Chairman Steil: "Under current law, could an anonymous Russian national or a Swiss billionaire donate to a U.S. non-profit?"
Cooksey: "Under current law, foreign Nationals are entitled to make contributions to issue advocacy organizations or charities."
Chairman Steil: "So they could they could donate to a non-profit or to issue advocacy or other areas. And then could that issue advocacy or non-profit contribute to a Super PAC?"
Cooksey: "Generally speaking, yes."
Chairman Steil: "So you're saying that a foreign National could donate to a 501(c)(4) and the 501(c)(4) could then create almost a slush fund and transfer that to a Super PAC. And if done directly to the Super PAC, that would be illegal?"
Chairman Steil: "So effectively there's a loophole that would currently allow a foreign national to functionally channel the money through a 501(c)(4), channel that into a Super PAC, and then run ads that would otherwise be prevented?"
Cooksey: "That could be done legally under current law."
Chairman Steil: "Do you think that loophole should be closed?"
Cooksey: "I leave it up to Congress but I would say that generally speaking the Commission is always concerned with foreign National influence in our elections."
Chairman Steil: "I think it is paramount that we close this loophole. It's being utilized I think to allow foreign interference in our elections. We've seen direct evidence of this. It's one of the reasons that we include language in the ACE Act to close this loophole. I think the more we're working to avoid foreign interference in U.S. elections, the better."
3. Changing the FEC's bipartisan structure would effectively weaponize the agency.
Congressman Anthony D'Esposito (NY-04): "As you probably know, the Democrats' For the People Act would turn the agency into a five-commissioner partisan agency. In your opinion, how dangerous is that proposal?"
Cooksey: "Congress was extremely wise in structuring the FEC as a bipartisan, evenly numbered commission that requires bipartisan agreement to go forward. It is the most important structural feature of the agency to prevent it from engaging in partisan or politically motivated investigations."
4. Commissioner Weintraub abuses her tenure on the FEC and needs to be removed.
Congressman Barry Loudermilk (GA-15): "Commissioner Weintraub, the greatest source of dysfunction at the FEC in recent years has been caused by the Democratic commissioner's deliberate strategy of blocking the closure of enforcement cases and forcing the agency to default in litigation you and your staff have proudly claimed responsibility just for disrupting the FEC's enforcement work in order to allow left-wing groups to sue the agency and to bypass the commission to sue political campaigns and groups. A federal court in the case of Heritage Action for America vs. FEC and the Campaign Legal Center vs. Heritage Action for America has recently ruled that your actions were illegal and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.... The New York Times published an article on June 8, 2021, titled 'Democrats' improbable new FEC strategy: more deadlock than ever.' Commissioner Weintraub, do you stand by its content that your goal in the agency appears to be to take a commission widely seen as dysfunctional and create further deadlock, compelling federal courts to fill the breach when it comes to policing federal election law."
Weintraub: "I would not agree with that characterization necessarily but I do think the courts can play a constructive role."
Congressman Greg Murphy (NC-03): "Ms. Weintraub, how long have you been serving?"
Weintraub: "Since the end of 2002."
Rep. Murphy: "That's 21 years, right? So how long is a normal term?"
Weintraub: "Six years."
Rep. Murphy: "Well, I say this because there have been some questions about you serving so long and thoughts about you being more partisan really than we would like to see on the FEC and that's just concerning. I'll ask Mr Cooksey: Realistically speaking, how long should Commissioners stay on?"
Cooksey: "Congress set a six-year term. I think six years is a good amount of time. No one voted for me to be on the Commission, it's not a lifetime appointment, I'm not part of the federal Judiciary, and there is a tendency I think to provide a better Public Service when you have fresher experience from the private sector or from other parts of government."