Subcommittee on Elections Hearing on: “Federal Election Commission: Reviewing Policies, Processes and Procedures”

Subcommittee on Elections | 1310 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Nov 3, 2011 10:00am

Opening Statements

Opening Statement-Robert A. Brady

Committee on House Administration

Subcommittee on Elections

Hearing on: “Federal Election Commission: Reviewing Policies, Processes and Procedures”

November 3, 2011

10:00am

 

 

 

I want to thank the chairman for holding this oversight hearing on the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the first the Committee has held in some time.

 

It goes without saying that the committee has exercised its oversight role of the FEC over the years by reviewing reports to Congress, informally and formally meeting with all the commissioners, meeting with the Inspector General, the General Counsel and Congressional Relations office to gather more clarity on issues and work to improve the functions of the agency. 

 

The FEC exercises its duties in four major areas: Enforcement, regulations, audits, and advisory opinions. While few will debate the merits of the FEC’s mission, it is the agency’s propensity to deadlock, sometimes on the most mundane of issues, that has me concerned.  It is an agency full on controversy and dissention, oftentimes the result of partisan politics rather than a genuine disagreement of ideas.  It has been jokingly observed that the FEC cannot even agree on which day of the week it is.

 

Never before in our history has the role of money in elections been more influential than it is today.  Outside spending in congressional races is higher than it’s ever been. As a result, it is imperative for the FEC to ensure the integrity and fairness in our electoral system. They must level the playing field.  Since 2003, the Commission’s percentage of split votes on enforcement actions skyrocketed from less than 1% in 2003 to more than 10% today. Further, the percentage of split advisory opinion votes is at its highest level, 29%, since 2008, when it was 22%. I am not inclined to believe this is a result of thoughtful debate but rather a strict and blind adherence to partisan beliefs. We cannot afford to continue this political charade at the expense of much needed enforcement and regulation.

 

Not only are the percentages of split votes increasing, but the number of total votes taken is as well. Since 2003, the number of total votes taken in enforcement actions is down from 1036 to 139. With respect to audits, the number is down from 59 to 13. Regulation votes have seen a decrease from 29 to 11. Advisory opinion votes are down from 51 in 2003 to 41 in 2010.  This is a troubling trend.

 

This Committee, and Congress, have taken up several pieces of legislation that are within the FEC’s purview.  Some have become law, as in the administrative fines program while others, such as the DISCLOSE Act, were never enacted.  America will continue to hold scheduled elections, regardless of inaction or deadlock at the FEC and those elections require rules and protections for their continued safety and integrity. This Committee has always encouraged disclosure and I would ask that we continue to embrace the sunlight that should be cast upon all elections.

 

It is timely that we have the FEC here today, just as a new trend is starting to emerge in campaign finance:  the Super Pac. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, and subsequently SpeechNow.org, the Super PAC did not exist. There is now roughly one Super PAC registering with the FEC per day.  Officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” Super PAC’s are not subject to the same contribution limits as other fundraising groups and while they must disclose their donors, it is not always clear, as a result of tactics such as shell corporations, exactly who is donating.  A lack of meaningful disclosure coupled with unlimited contribution limits is a dangerous mix to a democracy.

 

 

Prior to the FEC’s creation, Congress sought to limit the effect that wealthy individuals and special interests could have on elections through, among other things, laws mandating disclosure of campaign contributions. When Congress saw these laws were not enough, the FEC was created to enforce them.  We are already in the midst of presidential primaries. In little more than a year, we will have another presidential election.  We, as voters, are in an era of uncertainty when it comes to our elections and who is funding them.  The Supreme Court, whose Justices are appointed by the President to lifetime terms, has already drastically transformed the face of campaign finance by allowing for Super PAC’s, and more change is inevitable.  As such, it is critical that the FEC fulfills their intended mission.

I would again like to thank the Chairman for calling this hearing and I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witness.

Witnesses

The Honorable Cynthia L. Bauerly - Testimony

Chair, Federal Election Commission

 

The Honorable Caroline C. Hunter - Testimony

Vice Chair, Federal Election Commission

 

The Honorable Donald F. McGahn II - Joint Statement

Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

 

The Honorable Matthew S. Petersen

Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

 

The Honorable Steven T. Walther

Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

 

The Honorable Ellen L. Weintraub

Commissioner, Federal Election Commission

 

 

Submitted testimony

Common Cause

Campaign Legal Center & Democracy 21

Dem21 Report