On Wednesday, the Committee on House Administration held the first formal oversight hearing of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in over a decade. Chairman Bryan Steil explained in his opening remarks:
Today marks the first time in twelve years the Federal Election Commission, or the FEC, has come before the Committee on House Administration.
As Chairman of this Committee, I’m focused on building Americans’ confidence in our elections by making it easy to vote and hard to cheat. . .
The ACE Act makes critical reforms to support the FEC’s mission.
This includes important changes to protect freedom of speech and create more transparency in the political process. . .
We must maintain the bipartisan structure of the FEC so Americans can trust its decisions are even-handed.
It’s important that every decision by the FEC begins with an examination of current law and the First Amendment.
Chairman @RepBryanSteil opens today’s Full Committee Hearing by highlighting the importance of transparency within the @FEC and protecting it from political weaponization.⬇️ pic.twitter.com/2cl2ROyLEh— House Admin. Committee GOP (@HouseAdmin) September 20, 2023
During his opening statement, FEC Vice Chair Sean Cooksey laid out one of the greatest challenges the commission has faced in recent years—working through a backlog of cases created as a result of Democrats slowing the process of filling vacant spots on the Commission, which requires a quorum to operate.
Commissioner Allen Dickerson noted "Congress’s consistent failure to update the law to respect judicial precedent" has caused great confusion over how to apply campaign finance law, and ultimately, has affected the ability of Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights.
FEC Commissioner Allen Dickerson: “[W]ith every passing year, it becomes harder for ordinary Americans – or even most specialists – to understand what is and is not permitted.” https://t.co/wXSQ5R9TW0 4/— RNLA ⚖️ (@TheRepLawyer) September 20, 2023
Most importantly, Commissioner Trey Trainor focused his remarks on how the FEC's procedures and jurisdiction have been weaponized and threaten the rights of Americans engaged in campaign activity.
The MOU threatens the "rights of citizens" and "this information sharing should be halted and [the] independence of the FEC should be reaffirmed as the corruption prevention agency that it was originally envisioned." @TXElectionLaw https://t.co/VEQSK5NQDX 9/— RNLA ⚖️ (@TheRepLawyer) September 20, 2023
Unknown respondent complaints "are typically filed by ideological organizations that see an opportunity to have their leg work done on the taxpayers’ tab without regard as to whether the allegations are true[.]" @TXElectionLaw https://t.co/VEQSK5NQDX 11/— RNLA ⚖️ (@TheRepLawyer) September 20, 2023
Commissioner Trainor concluded:
I am proud of the bipartisan accomplishments we have made at the FEC; however, at the same time, I am fearful of the continued weaponization of the government against political participation. If this weaponization continues, I fear that American citizens will ultimately choose to forgo in participating in the political process, which would be unfortunate, as their participation is the foundation of our American democracy. Sitting here as an FEC Commissioner, I urge Congress to halt the sharing of information between the FEC and the Department of Justice, and to clarify that only complaints based on actual evidence of a violation by a known respondent can be investigated by the Commission.
Also of importance, a portion of the hearing was dedicated to questioning Democrat Commissioner Ellen Weintraub about her seemingly endless term on the FEC. (She has held the position for 20 years, when terms last for 6 years.) She conveniently claimed to forget whether she has had discussions with important stakeholders about being replaced and declined to comment in detail on any conversations she's had with the Biden administration.
Our takeaways from Wednesday's hearing: The FEC has shown that it can operate bipartisanly. However, it has the potential to be another tool of weaponization against the American people. With this in mind, reforms should be considered, including those in the ACE Act.