FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter: Ellen Weintraub Is Undermining the FEC

The sole Republican on the Federal Election Commission, Caroline Hunter, published an op-ed in Politico today describing how her colleague Ellen Weintraub's attacks on President Trump and frequent tweets and media appearances are undermining the public perception, independence, and impartiality of the FEC:  

Unfortunately, while Weintraub’s tweets and interviews might make for good soundbites and clickbait, they are harming the legitimacy of the institution she purports to serve. Commissioners are meant to be independent and neutral arbiters of campaign finance law. Yet Weintraub’s statements indicate that she has prematurely judged matters that could come before the FEC, and that she radically rejects any legal perspective other than her own. Not only that, she risks misleading the public about what the FEC does and what campaign finance law really says. Not surprisingly, Weintraub’s activities are causing consternation and confusion in several quarters, including on Capitol Hill, and people are starting to ask questions, including about her possible misuse of government resources for ideological and political purposes. . . .

What makes these public statements so concerning is the possibility that this issue might come before Weintraub in an enforcement action. In enforcement actions, commissioners are like judges: We hear complaints alleging that someone violated the law, consider responses from the accused and make a judgement based on the facts presented. And, like judges, commissioners have to be fair and neutral in applying the law to the facts, and decide each case on its own merits. Yet, Weintraub’s statements indicate that she has already made up her mind about the president and his administration—before considering all the facts and deliberating with other commissioners. (For some context, imagine how improper it would be for a judge to go on TV and opine about a high-profile case that could come before him or her in court.) At least one news outlet has interpreted her comments to mean she thought Trump’s actions were illegal. I doubt she demanded a correction to that reading, though she seems to be trying to backtrack from her earlier statements by claiming that she was just explaining the law and not expressing her opinion on how the law applies in this case.

In typical campaign finance "reform" community fashion, Weintraub is also implying that the law is what she would prefer it to be instead of what it is:

When the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had determined that the president’s call with Zelensky did not violate campaign finance law, Weintraub, acting unilaterally and without conferring with other commissioners, issued a draft interpretive rule arguably implying that Trump’s actions would be illegal. She posted the draft on the FEC’s website and added it to the agenda of an upcoming meeting, even though she knew the FEC, lacking the four members required for a quorum, could not do anything to act on or enforce it. All her actions did was generate publicity for herself and her view of the law. Weintraub also tweeted a link to the draft rule with a message emphasizing the foreign nationalprohibition’s “broad scope,” and retweeted it the next day with thick red lines underscoring the relevant language. Weintraub has also appeared on several cable news programs to discuss the foreign national ban.

And while decrying how "dysfunctional" the FEC is, Weintraub has worked to undermine the FEC when it has interpreted the law as written instead of how she would prefer it to be:

Weintraub’s hostility to other ways of interpreting the law is so extreme that she took the unprecedented step of refusing to allow the FEC to defend itself in court. Recently, a former colleague and I voted to dismiss a complaint against Clinton’s campaign committee and a pro-Clinton super PAC because, among other reasons, the record did not indicate that the two committees had “coordinated” under applicable law. Weintraub disagreed and wanted to investigate. When her view did not prevail, she threw the entire Commission (and Clinton) under the bus by refusing to allow the FEC to defend our position in court. (At least four commissioners would have had to vote to allow the agency to defend itself. Since we had only four commissioners at the time, the vote had to be unanimous.) When the complainant filed suit against the FEC, the agency was forced to ignore the court’s summons. But Weintraub was not satisfied with merely preventing the FEC from defending itself; she did not want anyone else to defend our position, either. When Clinton tried to intervene in the lawsuit to defend herself and the complainant fought to stop her, Weintraub seemed pleased, tweeting a link to the complainant’s legal brief and calling it “spellbinding reading.”

Commissioner Hunter concludes by reminding us that the activity under the FEC's jurisdiction is political speech protected by the First Amendment at the highest level.  She also calls for an entirely new slate of FEC commissioners to be confirmed (all three current commissioners have exceeded their terms).  President Trump appointed Trey Trainor to a Republican seat on the FEC over two years ago, but Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has delayed in naming a Democrat to proceed through the confirmation process with him as has always been done for FEC nominees.  

Since the FEC is not the partisan-controlled, campaign-finance-crusading institution that they have been trying to transform it into for years, Democrats would rather undermine the FEC than have it operate as intended by the law.  Thank you, Commissioner Hunter, for defending the integrity of the FEC and the rule of law.