The Federal Election Commission is a regulatory agency created in 1974 to administer and enforce federal campaign finance laws. It has jurisdiction over all levels of campaign finance from the House to the President.
But thanks to Moscow Mitch, the Commission will now be effectively paralyzed with the impending resignation of Matthew Petersen, the Vice Chairman. That will bring the agency down to just three people, half of its required members.
The FEC can no longer:
Conduct meetings ❌
Issue fines ❌
Make rules ❌
Conduct audits ❌
Vote on the outcome of investigations ❌ https://t.co/ZVYyGLvZs7
— Joe Yerardi (@JoeYerardi) August 26, 2019
The FEC was designed to contain six members, three Democrats and three Republicans.
Each of these commissioners is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They are only supposed to serve on the commission a single six-year term, with their appointments being staggered so that the members rotate roughly every two years.
However, there haven’t been any new members appointed since McConnell took up the mantle of majority leader back in 2015. All of the commissioners currently serving are over their six-year term.
Moscow Mitch, who prefers to think of himself as the grim reaper of lawmakers, has blocked a ton of legislative action including the confirmation of new members to the Federal Election Commission. He failed to bring a vote on Obama’s nominee, John J Sullivan, even though he was supported on both sides of the aisle and there were three expired seats pending at the time.
He has also left Trump’s nominee Trey Trainor, who was nominated in 2017, waiting for his confirmation.
While blocking legislation is typical McConnell behavior, blocking these particular nominations may be something a bit more personal for Mitch. The Senate Majority leader has had a long-standing beef with the FEC, and his failure to fill the seats may be his way of undermining the entire commission and getting his revenge.
Back in the early 2000s, there was a bipartisan campaign finance law created by John McCain and Russ Feingold. This piece of legislation was created to keep soft money out of politics and thus battle corruption. McConnell was adamantly opposed to the bill, saying that it violated First Amendment rights and would prevent Republicans from winning elections:
“Take away nonfederal money, we wouldn’t be in the majority in the House, we wouldn’t be in the majority in the Senate, we wouldn’t win the White House. So I can tell you this - hell’s going to freeze over first before we get rid of soft money.”
McConnell fought the bill for seven years, but it finally passed and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush. This didn’t go over very well with Mitch, so he decided to take it to the Supreme Court, McConnell vs. Federal Election Commission.
But the Supreme Court didn’t side with Mitch, in a 5 to 4 decision. Instead, they sided in favor of the FEC and McCain’s bill. In his memoir, McConnell discusses the SCOTUS decision saying,
“I’d taken the fight as far as I could, and it was time to move on.”
Yet McConnell didn’t give up the fight. He kept slithering toward his goal of keeping soft money in politics and keeping Republicans in the majority. He joined with Citizens United in 2010 to take on the FEC again, and this time he was successful.
The Supreme Court case Citizens United vs the Federal Election Commission undid nearly everything McCain’s bill achieved, and effectively allowed corporations to pour as much money into politics as they wanted.
Now, in 2019, Moscow Mitch has nearly abolished the FEC by refusing to fill its seats.