President Obama recently announced his two nominees for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) -- Ann Ravel and Lee E. Goodman.
Ravel, a Democrat, is the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). She has most notably spearheaded an investigation into an Arizona nonprofit group that spent 11 million dollars opposing Prop 30. She's also received criticism for attempting to regulate political blogs and websites in California.
Goodman, a Republican, is well versed in campaign law. He represented George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the 2000 presidential election. He's currently employed at LeClairRyan, a firm that specializes in corporate law. He unsuccessfully argued against a ban on direct contributions from corporations to politicians and has publicly supported Citizens United.
It's no accident that President Obama nominated members of both parties. By law, the FEC can't have more than three commissioners from any one party.
Furthermore, the commission must have at least four votes to take any action.
These regulations have lead to widespread criticism from reform advocates. Organizations such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claim that the appointment process is broken and, even though nominees must chosen by the president, they're hand picked by party leaders.
“In reality, an informal understanding between the president and the Congress exists whereby the nominees are selected by party leaders. This tacit understanding only enhances the partisan nature of the process, with party leaders nominating commissioners who further their political interests, some of whom are openly hostile toward the very laws they’re charged with enforcing.”
Other groups, such as Common Cause, say the fundamental model of the FEC needs fixing; they propose a nonpartisan solution.
“Congress should model the FEC after more effective law enforcement agencies that are headed by a single administrator who is appointed for a fixed term by the President and confirmed by the Senate... ...the one federal law enforcement agency that is primarily responsible for overseeing the campaign activities of Members of Congress needs to be better insulated from those it regulates.”
They continue by citing the fact that during the 2008 elections, the country lacked a functioning FEC due to nominations being stuck in the Senate.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the FEC's ineffectiveness comes in a letter sent to President Obama from 8 different groups:
“According to a BNA Report (March 4, 2011), the FEC professional staff found through audits that the Kansas Republican party and a unit of Georgia Democratic party each had improperly used campaign funds.”
Despite the evidence, the vote to take action failed 3-3.
Currently, five commissioners are serving on expired terms -- the sixth retired. Confirmation hearings have not yet been scheduled.