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House Lawmakers See Elections Oversight Committee as Waste of Money

by Alex Gauthier, published

The community of federal campaign oversight will undergo significant downsizing following announcements from the Federal Election Commission and the House Administration Committee, Wednesday. Tony Herman, General Legal Counsel to the Federal Election Commission, will leave the agency this July and the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) moved one inch closer to being scrapped.

In a statement, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub said, "I want to thank Tony for his outstanding service to this agency and to the American public.” He will return to Covington & Burling, LLP where he was a partner before joining the FEC in 2011.

The FEC has been understaffed since February when former commissioner, Cynthia Bauerly, left after serving nearly a 5-year term. Now with five out of six commissioners, each serving expired terms, the agency will need to locate a new General Counsel before July 7.

“I enjoyed working at the FEC during an important juncture in the nation’s election cycle, but I look forward to returning to Covington, a truly unique and wonderful law firm,” said Herman in a release. His replacement has not yet been announced, but Gregory Baker is the current Deputy General Counsel.

The Office of General Counsel consists of five units within the commission: Deputy General Counsel in charge of administration (Gregory Baker) and law (Lisa Stevenson), followed by the Enforcement (Daniel A. Petalas), Litigation (Kevin Deeley) and Policy (Adav Noti) Divisions.

Similarly, the House Administration Committee, led by Chairman Candice Miller (R-Michigan), approved three bills Wednesday that would dismantle the 'obsolete' Election Assistance Commission as well as end public financing for party conventions via the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF).

The commission was created in 2002 under the Help America Vote Act in response to the controversial 2000 presidential election and was charged with helping implement the act in addition to assisting states with poll worker training an other election-related activities. In similar form to the FEC, the EAC's four commissioner seats have remained vacant, awaiting appointments from the president since 2011.

HR's 1994, and 94/95 were sponsored by Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi) and Tom Kole (R-Oklahoma) respectively. Regarding the EAC, Chairman Miller issued a statement, "Despite the fact that they have far outlived their purpose, they continue to exist – costing taxpayers millions each year with zero benefit in return."

Despite the EAC's stagnation, a coalition of campaign finance watchdogs sent a letter to the House Committee last week saying:

Our organizations believe it is essential to repair the presidential public financing system -- not repeal it. We strongly support the legislation to revise the current presidential system by matching small contributions with multiple public funds for the primary and general elections, by closing the loophole that has allowed corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to provide soft money to pay for the conventions and by replacing the public funding for conventions with a new system of hard money contributions.
Nevertheless, the plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears. House Republicans have asserted that the EAC is a prime example of wasteful government spending. HRs 94 and 95 would divert the $260 million remaining in the PECF towards deficit reduction.

Photo credit: Ho John Lee via Flickr

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