Not an April Fools’ joke: Nation’s campaign finance watchdog is MIA as FEC endures longest period without a quorum in its history

Even before the coronavirus crisis upended the lives of millions of Americans and the operations of countless government agencies, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was already struggling.

Today, in fact, marks the start of the eighth month since the nation’s campaign finance watchdog lost its ability to do its job due to the resignation of one commissioner in August. This left three seats on the six-member commission vacant — one person short of the quorum necessary to conduct most of the agency’s official business, such as crafting new rules, issuing legal advice to candidates, and fining those who break the law. 

The FEC is now enduring the longest period in the agency’s history without a quorum. 

It’s up to the president to nominate, and the Senate to confirm, new commissioners. Last month, the Senate Rules Committee held a confirmation hearing for Texas attorney Trey Trainor, who has been nominated to fill one of the vacancies and whose qualifications Issue One has repeatedly raised concerns about.

As Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee has said: “Senators from both parties should have serious doubts about Trey Trainor’s ability to be the effective campaign finance cop the American people need. Reopening the Federal Election Commission with a nominee who does not think we should enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws will only make matters worse.”

Against this backdrop, here are seven numbers that show how the FEC is missing in action at this critical time.

214: Number of days — and counting — that the FEC has been without enough members to conduct official business such as promulgating new rules, issuing legal advice, or fining those who break campaign finance laws.

300: Approximate number of cases on the FEC’s enforcement docket that cannot be resolved until the FEC regains a quorum. About three dozen of these cases involve alleged illegal foreign interference in U.S. elections.

68: Number of pending enforcement cases for which the statute of limitations could expire if the FEC does not soon regain a quorum.

2: Number of complaints filed with the FEC in March by groups alleging that billionaire Michael Bloomberg illegally contributed more than the legal limit to the Democratic National Committee when he transferred $18 million to the party from his failed presidential campaign (which he self-funded). 

1: Number of reports from the FEC’s Inspector General that have raised concerns about the lack of a quorum at the FEC. This report called the lack of a quorum the “most significant management and performance challenge” facing the agency.

8: Number of public meetings that the FEC had to cancel in 2019 because it lacked the quorum necessary to conduct official business. No public meetings will be held in 2020 until the FEC regains a quorum.

100%: Portion of the FEC’s three currently serving commissioners who are serving on expired terms. While a term on the FEC is designed to be six years, the most junior FEC commissioner has been serving for nearly 12 years (roughly double a normal term) and the longest-serving FEC commissioner has been serving for more than 17 years (roughly three times a normal term).

Learn more about what can be done to fix the FEC at FECMIA.com, a project of Issue One.