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Source: United States Senator for Maryland Chris Van Hollen

October 17, 2019

Legislation follows the arrest of individuals with foreign ties charged with making illegal political donations for the benefit of foreign interests 

FEC Chair continues to raise concerns that with only three out of six commissioners, the agency will not be able to investigate campaign finance violations, including foreign interference in the 2020 election

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced legislation that will revitalize the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by breaking the deadlock of its leadership structure and restoring its role as an effective and timely enforcer of campaign finance regulations.

The introduction of the legislation comes as election experts continue to sound the alarm about the inability of the FEC as it is currently structured to effectively enforce our campaign finance laws and protect our elections from foreign interference. Last week, several associates of the president’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani – and reportedly key members of the president and Giuliani’s shadow effort to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the president’s political rival – were indicted on charges of violating campaign finance laws and attempting to interfere in American elections to benefit foreign interests. 

 “Free and fair elections are a central principle of our democracy. And yet, secret money from special interests continues to corrupt our elections with no end in sight. As we work to fix this very broken system, at the very least we need a viable campaign watchdog to ensure that candidates and campaigns play by the existing rules. This legislation is a small but important step to put a real referee on the field. It will break the current deadlock and eliminate the partisan divide at the FEC. Together with Senator Udall, I will continue working to overhaul our campaign finance system and root out special interest spending in our elections,” said Van Hollen.

“A decisive FEC that can judiciously enforce campaign finance violations is crucial to maintaining the legitimacy of our elections and democracy,” said Udall. ” In 2018 we now know that there were efforts to secretly funnel foreign money to candidates, deliberately violating our campaign finance laws to interfere in the outcome of those elections. This is illegal, and there is little to stop it from continuing in 2020.  Right now, our FEC is toothless – and we don’t have an effective cop on the beat to protect our democracy. Without FEC enforcement, the integrity of our elections is vulnerable to the types of foreign interference that the founders warned about.” 

The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act would institute a number of reforms to strengthen the ability of the FEC to enforce campaign finance laws. The measure was also included in the For the People Act, a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would end special interest corruption in politics and put power back in the hands of the American people which Udall and Van Hollen introduced in March.

The bill would reduce the number of commissioners appointed to the FEC from six to five, with two members from each party and one independent, bringing the FEC structure in line with most other independent agencies and ensuring the president’s party would not hold the majority.  This critical reform would end the ongoing, systemic deadlock at the FEC, where the three Republican Commissioners have refused to vote to enforce many campaign finance rules that still remain on the books following devastating Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.  The Act also creates a non-partisan, blue ribbon panel to publicly recommend commissioners to help ensure the president nominates highly qualified appointees.

In the past decade the number of enforcement actions and penalties levied against campaign finance violations has dropped to a fraction of its previous efforts, and this permissive climate has led to a rising tide of more and more brazen violations, including foreign money infiltrating our elections. In 2006 enforcement was robust and the FEC collected over $5 million in civil penalties, but a decade later enforcement and collection of penalties plummeted to only $600,000. Today, the FEC acts far too slowly in enforcing campaign finance violations. It can often take years to determine whether an investigation should even begin after a potential violation has occurred. The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act will restructure the FEC, strengthening its enforcement actions through faster and more efficient processes. Specifically, the Act will empower the General Counsel to actually act on enforcement matters promptly, requiring the commission to go out of their way and vote by a majority to overturn the action. And, for those aggrieved by the Commission’s decision or by the failure of the Commission to act on a complaint, the Act provides an avenue of judicial review to decide whether the FEC’s action is contrary to the law. 

Several leading campaign finance reform organizations support the legislation, including Democracy 21, End Citizens United, Common Cause, Public Citizen, and American Promise.

“Democracy 21 strongly supports the legislation sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to restore and repair the Federal Election Commission. The FEC has been an ineffectual enforcement agency for some time, but today it is completely dysfunctional. The six-member Commission lacks a sufficient number of Commissioners to take any FEC action on enforcement matters, proposed regulations, advisory opinions or anything else,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. “The FEC has disappeared for all practical purposes, so we are headed into a contentious election threatened by illegal foreign intervention in our campaigns with no cop on the beat. The message in these Wild West circumstances to potential violators of the campaign finance laws is clear: do whatever you want, there is no campaign finance enforcement agency. The Udall-Van Hollen FEC bill could not be more timely or more important in restoring to existence and in strengthening an agency that has an essential role to play in protecting the integrity and credibility of our elections and our political system.”

 “There was a time when the six-member Federal Election Commission worked more or less as a bipartisan and effective enforcement agency of our nation’s campaign finance laws. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell realized as early as 2008 that he could stack the deck on the Commission with three Republican members who do not believe in our campaign finance laws and refuse to enforce them. Deadlocked votes tied the hands of the Commission ever since then, rendering the FEC toothless and dysfunctional. Sen. Udall’s FEC Election Integrity legislation would end these partisan deadlocks and bring the campaign finance cop back on the beat,” said Craig Holman, Public Citizen.

“With the 2020 elections fast approaching and no cop on the beat at the Federal Election Commission, Russia and other bad actors may see a green light to continue to attack the integrity of our elections,” said Beth Rotman, Director of Money-in-Politics and Ethics at the non-partisan watchdog Common Cause. “We commend Senator Udall and Senator Van Hollen for introducing the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act so that the FEC can defend our elections and ensure that hostile foreign actors can’t continually try to hijack our voices and our votes.”

“The Federal Election Commission has been hobbled by partisan attacks and gridlock. The result is that there is no longer a cop on the beat when it comes to campaign finance laws and the integrity of our elections. The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act would break the gridlock on the FEC and give it the teeth it needs to enforce America’s campaign finance laws. Senator Udall has long been a leader on these issues and I applaud his introduction of this important legislation,” said Tiffany Muller, President of End Citizens United Action Fund.

In addition to Van Hollen and Udall the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Corey Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.).

The full text of the bill can be found HERE. A one-page summary can be found HERE. A section by section of the bill can be found HERE.

 

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