In a divided agency, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) finds little compromise, and Democratic Commissioners attempt to overstep their power in an effort to advance their agenda. Democratic Chair Ann Ravel and Commissioner Ellen Weintraub filed an unprecedented formalpetition for rulemaking to their own agency to initiate a rulemaking process. The commissioners want to address the coordination of outside spending and campaigns and the regulations of foreign political money, but as the Center for Public Integrity’s Dave Levintal says,
It’s kind of like a head coach of a football team, as a fan, petitioning his coaching staff to run a new offensive scheme.
This exceptional move is a publicity stunt by the Democratic commissioners that ignores the inherent power of their role as Commissioners. In the FEC’s monthly meeting the conversation digressed into defining Weintraub’s personhood rather than highlighting Weintraub’s title as Commissioner.
The purpose of petitions is to give citizens a voice, and not for commissioners to try to make political points with the extremes of their party's base. Unfortunately, the tactic diminishes the voice of the people generally.
Even the legality of Weintraub’s petition is at issue because it is so unusual. Per Vice Chair Matthew Petersen’s suggestion, the panel decided to hold off on their vote to determine its legality under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Ravel and Weintraub could have left the role of the people to the people because ultimately, Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group, filed essentially the same petition the next day. Now the commissioners can perform their intended duties and vote on whether or not to initiate the rulemaking.
Here, Weintraub’s effort shows the extremes (such as petitioning themselves) that Democrat FEC Commissioners will go to in order to advance their agenda. Now the “people,” or citizens without the political authority of a commissioner, played their established part in filing a petition. This leaves Weintraub’s petition as a redundant political tool serving no purpose other than to highlight her open disdain for views that are different from hers. The Commission will determine in July whether to publish Weintraub’s petition in the federal register.