As 2020 elections near, FEC functions are limited by lack of commissioners

AMNA NAWAZ: The 2020 elections are not far
away, but right now, the agency in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws, the Federal
Election Commission is largely unable to function. The departure of the Republican vice chair
last month leaves the commission with just three members today, a Republican, an independent,
and a Democrat, when it needs four members to have a quorum. Yesterday, Judy Woodruff sat down with the
remaining Democrat on the panel, the chair of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub. JUDY WOODRUFF: Chairman Ellen Weintraub, thank
you very much for talking with us. So, in a nutshell, what should the American
people know about what the Federal Election Commission does? ELLEN WEINTRAUB, Chair, Federal Election Commission:
Judy, the Federal Election Commission is the original follow-the-money agency. We were set up in the aftermath of Watergate
to make sure that the American people know who is funding the political campaigns that
they are seeing every day. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, normally, you’re supposed
to have, by law, six commissioners. You are down to three right now, a Democrat,
a Republican, and an independent. What does that mean in terms of what you were
able to do and what you’re not able to do? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Well, the good news is that
we have a terrific staff, and they are continuing to come to work and do their jobs every day,
and most of the work does get done by the staff. But the decisions that the agency has to make,
those have to be made by a minimum of four commissioners. And, right now, as you pointed out, we only
have three. We have roughly 250 enforcement matters that
are in the — somewhere in the hopper, and we need commissioners present in order to
conclude those matters and make decisions, so that these things aren’t hanging over a
politician’s head, and the American people understand who has violated the law and who
hasn’t. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what’s an example of
something that’s not getting done? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Well, we have over 30 complaints
that are sitting in the House right now that allege foreign national money being spent
in our elections. That is flatly illegal. And they are important allegations that the
commission has previously said they would prioritize. But we can’t address them right now. And we don’t know. Some of them may be completely unsubstantiated,
but some of them may be serious allegations that require investigation or sanction. JUDY WOODRUFF: So you can’t decide on whether
to investigate until you have your complement of commissioners? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: That’s right. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in connection with that,
the president said in June that he would be willing to accept information about his political
opponents even if it was given to him by a foreign government. You quickly warned — you put out a statement
that this would be illegal. Expand on that. What were you saying? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Well, not talking about any
individual, but the rule of law is that it is absolutely illegal for anyone to accept
or receive or solicit assistance from a foreign government, for any foreign national to assist
in our elections. We have a flat ban on foreign spending in
our elections. It’s important for American citizens to know
that we are in charge of our own elections. We are the ones making the decisions. We are the ones funding the politicians. We are the ones who ultimately take responsibility
for our own government. JUDY WOODRUFF: And another point that President
Trump has been making really for a very long time, and that is claimed continued — repeated
claims of voter fraud in this country. There was a recent USA Today poll that found
four in 10 voters have little or no confidence that next year’s election in 2020 is going
to be conducted in a fair way. Should the American people trust that it will
be conducted in a fair way? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Well, I think election administration
is being conducted throughout the country by a lot of dedicated public servants working
at the state and local level. And they are, I’m sure, going to do their
darndest to make sure that the election is carried out properly. But there are a lot of risks that we know
about right now. We know that foreign governments are trying
to attack our elections. We know that people have difficulty voting
sometimes. There is one scholar who looked at every election
between 2000 and 2014, over a billion votes, and found only 31 credible possibilities of
voter fraud. Now, the problem with talking about voter
fraud, when it is unsubstantiated, is that there is a risk that measures will be adopted
that will make it harder, that will impose obstacles on legitimate American citizens
exercising their right to vote. Right now, if we get over 60 percent participation
in any election, that’s considered good turnout. And we need to have more people participating,
civically engaged and making their choices, so that the government represents them. JUDY WOODRUFF: Coming back to the Federal
Election Commission, again, you only have three commissioners. You need six. You need four to have a quorum. You don’t — you don’t have that. I assume you have made the case to the White
House, we need these appointments. What’s the response you get? ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Well, I don’t want to talk
about any communications that I have had. But I have publicly stated, and I will take
this opportunity to state again, that we need to get new commissioners on board. It needn’t take very long. It could happen very quickly. If the president and the Senate are motivated,
we could get new nominees nominated and confirmed in fairly short order. The vice chairman, who recently resigned,
when he was originally nominated, he was confirmed 12 days later. So we could get back up to speed very quickly,
and we should. JUDY WOODRUFF: Ellen Weintraub, chair of the
Federal Election Commission, thank you very much. ELLEN WEINTRAUB: Thank you, Judy.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *