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FEC commissioners’ terms expired long ago, but Trump, Congress won’t replace them

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This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Anniversaries are often festive.

Not today at the Federal Election Commission.

As of April 30, the FEC’s current four commissioners have been on the commission for a total of 32 years longer than they should have been.

Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub’s six-year term expired 11 years ago, when George W. Bush occupied the White House, the “Great Recession” had yet to occur and the most momentous campaign finance decision of the century, Citizens United v. FEC, was still two-and-a-half years hence.

Commissioner Steve Walther (nine years), Commissioner Matthew Petersen (seven years) and Chairwoman Caroline Hunter (five years) have also stayed aboard long after they should have been out of a job. Beyond the holdovers, there are two vacant spots on the commission.

Image: Federal Election Commission's Matthew Petersen testifies during a hearing
The FEC’s Matthew Petersen testifies during a hearing before the Elections Subcommittee of House Committee on House Administration on Nov. 3, 2011 on Capitol Hill.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

In separate interviews Thursday with the Center for Public Integrity, each of the four “holdover” commissioners — who may continue to serve until President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate replace them — confirmed that they have no immediate plans to step down.

They all know the FEC, in the midst of a critical midterm election campaign, is teetering on the brink of a de facto shutdown: If one commissioner retires, resigns or otherwise isn’t present, the agency that regulates and enforces campaign money laws loses its four-commissioner quorum and can’t conduct high-level business. No passing rules. No penalizing scofflaws. No providing official advice to political committees seeking it.

“If the commission loses a quorum … it obviously affects the public,” Hunter said.

Click Here To Read the Center for Public Integrity’s Version of This Story

Not that the FEC’s commissioners work together seamlessly when the agency is fully operational.

A report this month by the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service notes that “achieving at least four agreeing votes is sometimes difficult, even with six members present. Vacancies make the task harder by reducing opportunities for a coalition of at least four votes.”

Republicans frequently accuse Democrats of overreach — attempting to enforce federal election laws that Congress hasn’t passed, and therefore, don’t exist. Democrats accuse Republicans of rank failure to enforce laws that they argue should be obvious to any liberal or conservative.

Imaeg: Federal Election Commission's Steven Walther poses in the FEC's hearing room
The FEC’s Steven Walther poses in the FEC’s hearing room in Washington on Jan. 13, 2009.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call – Getty Images file

Thursday’s commission meeting — the first in the bipartisan agency’s sparkling new headquarters near Washington, D.C.’s Union Station — provided a clear indication that some commissioners’ patience with one another, like their terms, has also expired.

When Weintraub suggested that Hunter could have adjusted the commission’s April 12 public meeting to accommodate her trip to Lithuania for an elections conference, Hunter would have none of it. “Absolutely outrageous!” Hunter shot back, noting that the four commissioners, including Weintraub, voted to simply cancel the agency’s meeting for lack of a quorum. Hunter later questioned the point of Weintraub’s sojourn, which Weintraub defended as an opportunity to “advance democracy.”

Republicans Hunter and Petersen on Thursday also issued a scathing rebuttal to Weintraub’s decision this month to “break glass in case of emergency” and not vote to further defend the FEC in federal court — a highly unusual occurrence — in the lawsuit CREW v. FEC.

They lambasted Weintraub, a Democrat, for seeking “to remove the commission from its enforcement role” and “attempting to obstruct routine commission operations.” Weintraub’s actions “raise questions of bias and/or prejudgment, which, in turn, implicate serious questions of due process.”

Weintraub argued she had no choice but to take such action and effectively invite government reform advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — in 2012, it filed an FEC complaint accusing the conservative “dark money” group American Action Network of operating as a political committee and illegally withholding the identities of its funders — to sue the American Action Network directly. Weintraub said she didn’t trust her Republican colleagues to enforce campaign disclosure laws.

Image: Federal Election Commission's Caroline Hunter testifies during a hearing
The FEC’s Caroline Hunter testifies during a hearing before the Elections Subcommittee of House Committee on House Administration on Nov. 3, 2011 on Capitol Hill.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

“Over a difficult and frustrating decade at the commission, I have seen colleagues with a deep ideological commitment to impeding this country’s campaign-finance laws erode the public’s right to free, fair, and transparent elections,” Weintraub wrote.

The situation could send a bad message to other political actors, CREW litigation counsel Stuart McPhail said.

“People may feel that there’s no cop on the beat and that they don’t have to follow the law,” he said.

Several former FEC commissioners interviewed last week agreed that the FEC, in general, benefits from experienced agency leaders who understand the nation’s election laws and their application and are versed in managing a federal agency of roughly 330 employees.

But “at some point in the future the commission could benefit from new perspectives, new energy and a new rhythm,” said Republican Lee Goodman, who served on the FEC from 2013 until February, when he resigned to become a partner at law firm Wiley Rein.

“Commissioners who make a career out of the position are much less likely to cooperate or even attempt to reach consensus across the aisle as they are so certain of the rightness of their approach to issues given the other matters they have decided in their long careers,” said Democrat Ann Ravel, who served on the FEC from 2013 to 2017.

Early last decade, Congress limited FEC commissioners to one six-year term precisely to keep commissioners from serving indefinitely — Democratic Commissioner Danny McDonald, for example, served a quarter-century, from 1981 to 2006.

Now, “the term limits have become meaningless,” said Karl Sandstrom, a Democratic FEC commissioner who served from 1998 to 2003.

Blame President Barack Obama, Trump and Congress alike for this state of affairs.

Click Here To Read the Rest of This Story

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

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Oh dear, Angela! Merkel will be forced to break OWN debt limits as economy faces slump

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ANGELA MERKEL continues to face huge economic challenges as Germany will fail to stick to its strict debt limits for years, the Chancellor has been warned.

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With a new open seat in Ohio, 2022 Senate map begins to take shape

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WASHINGTON — After Sen. Rob Portman’s, R-Ohio, announcement Monday that he won’t seek re-election, the 2022 Senate map is coming into focus — even with more than 600 days until Election Day.

Republicans will be defending 20 Senate seats, including the open ones in North Carolina (Richard Burr’s), Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey’s) and now Ohio (Portman’s).

The GOP also will have to defend Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida and Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat in Wisconsin.

President Joe Biden won two of those five states — Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — last November.

Democrats, meanwhile, will be defending 14 seats, with the top GOP targets being those held by Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Georgia’s Raphael Warnock (both men will be running for full six-year terms in 2022), as well as Sen. Maggie Hassan’s in New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto’s in Nevada.

Biden won all four states last year.

Bottom line: With a 50-50 tie in the Senate, this is a map where Democrats definitely need to have success if they want to keep their majority.

In particular, the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin seats are ones that Dems should have won in 2016.

Then again, midterm cycles are usually rough for the party controlling the White House.

Follow the leader

Here’s something else to consider for those open GOP-held Senate seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania: The Republican state parties have become as Trump-y — or even more so — than Donald Trump himself.

Last weekend, the Arizona GOP censured Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake and current Gov. Doug Ducey.

Also over the weekend, a Hawaii GOP official resigned after using the party’s Twitter account to support QAnon conspiracy theorists.

In Oregon, the state Republican Party falsely called the Capitol riot a “false flag” operation meant to discredit Trump.

And in Texas, the state GOP once again used the Q-linked phrase “We Are The Storm,” though the party denies it’s associated with QAnon.

As the Republican Party tries to figure out a future after Trump, its state parties sure look more like him than not.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

25,371,729: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 134,914 more than Monday morning.)

422,289: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,773 more than Monday morning.)

109,936: That’s the number of people currently hospitalized from Covid-19 in the United States.

296.8 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

At least 19.3 million: The number of Americans who have received one or both vaccine shots so far.

1: The number of candidates that former President Donald Trump has endorsed since he left office — Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former press secretary who is running for governor in Arkansas.

2: The number of Democratic senators who publicly defended the filibuster, prompting Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to agree to a power-sharing agreement with Democrats, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema.

1.5 million: The number of daily coronavirus vaccines President Joe Biden believes America can begin administering in the coming weeks.

Tweet of the day

What Biden means by “unity”

President Biden clarified on Monday what he means when he calls for unity — which was a strong theme of his entire campaign and inaugural address.

“Unity requires you to eliminate the vitriol, make anything that you disagree with about the other person’s personality or their lack of integrity, or they’re not decent legislators and the like. So, we have to get rid of that,” Biden said.

But the president made clear that “unity” can’t get in the way of legislation — wink, wink, his Covid-19 recovery package.

“If you pass a piece of legislation that breaks down on party lines, but it gets passed, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t unity. It just means it wasn’t bipartisan. I would prefer these things to be bipartisan, because I’m trying to generate some consensus and take sort of the — how can I say it — the vitriol out of all of this.”

One vote that was bipartisan on Monday was Janet Yellen’s confirmation to serve as the first woman to head the Treasury Department. She won confirmation by an 84-15 vote.

Biden Cabinet Watch

State: Tony Blinken

Treasury: Janet Yellen (confirmed)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (confirmed)

Attorney General: Merrick Garland

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

Energy: Jennifer Granholm

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona

Commerce: Gina Raimondo

Labor: Marty Walsh

HUD: Marcia Fudge

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (confirmed)

EPA: Michael Regan

SBA: Isabel Guzman

OMB Director: Neera Tanden

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Biden’s day

At 2:00 p.m. ET, President Biden speaks on his racial equity agenda and signs executive orders. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds her briefing at 12:30 p.m. ET.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

President Biden upped his vaccine goal saying the country can administer 1.5 million shots a day in the coming weeks.

China says it will conduct military exercises in the disputed waters of the South China Sea this week.

Twitter permanently suspended the account of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell for repeated violations on spreading misinformation.

The Biden administration suspended some of the terrorism sanctions placed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Minnesota reported the first U.S. case of the Brazil-based coronavirus variant.

President Biden will move forward with plan to place Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

While there’s no specific research on how well masks work against Covid variants, it may make sense to wear two masks.

And Jimmy Fallon tried to clean Steve Kornacki’s office.



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Boris Johnson press conference: PM to make major address from No10 TODAY

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BORIS JOHNSON is to hold an unexpected televised coronavirus briefing tonight after misinformation surrounding UK coronavirus vaccines was spread in Germany.

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