WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. called for a functioning Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce federal campaign finance laws.
His remarks came during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration to consider President Obama’s nominees to serve on the FEC.
“As you know, I am a strong supporter of reforming our campaign finance system. I believe one important step is to have a functioning FEC, where all six seats are filled with commissioners in terms that haven’t expired. Regrettably, that hasn’t been the case for quite a while,” said Udall, a member of the Rules Committee. For a full video of the hearing, click here.
At the hearing, Udall received commitment from the nominees that, if confirmed, they would support existing campaign finance laws and regulations even if they personally opposed to the rules. During the exchange, Udall quoted a July 14, 2013, Washington Post editorial that argued, “Fundamentally, the Republican commissioners seem not to believe in the campaign finance laws that Congress has passed and that they are bound to enforce.”
The six FEC Commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and are responsible for administering and enforcing the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The FEC is an independent regulatory agency established by Congress in 1975 and charged with disclosing campaign finance information, enforcing laws such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and overseeing the public funding of Presidential elections. No more than three commissioners can be from the same political party.
“Campaign finance reform historically has been a bipartisan issue. I hope it will be again. In the meantime, the FEC has a vital role to play by diligently enforcing existing laws,” said Udall at the hearing.
Udall also questioned the nominees about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and how it effects the FEC’s ability to enforce current campaign finance laws. “Corporate treasuries are now in play. This is a huge amount of money flooding into the system, and I think it corrupts the system,” said Udall. He also noted his constitutional amendment to overturn both the Citizens United and the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decisions and to return campaign finance regulation back to the American people.
Finally, Udall noted the need to clarify the communication and investigative authority between the FEC and the U.S. Department of Justice. According to a recent New York Times editorial, which Udall referenced at the hearing, the FEC had been considering “ending regular information sharing with Justice Department officials,” which the FEC’s general counsel Anthony Herman “stressed has ‘greatly benefited’ enforcement of the law and is standard procedure for all regulatory agencies.”
Udall sent a letter to the FEC earlier this month expressing opposition to the proposed change, writing, “The policy change proposed – requiring that each Department of Justice request for information be accompanied by a subpoena or other written request, and approved by a Commission vote – would hinder enforcement and would be inconsistent with practices across the federal government.”
The FEC has not had a full six-member board without expired terms in several years. On June 21, 2013, President Obama nominated Democrat Ann Miller Ravel, of California, to be a member of the Federal Election Commission for a term expiring April 30, 2017; and Republican Lee E. Goodman, of Virginia, for a term expiring April 30, 2015. Following today’s hearing, the Senate Rules Committee must vote on the nominees before sending them to the full Senate for consideration.
Udall previously supported President Obama’s FEC nominee John J. Sullivan. Despite being approved by the Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support in June 2009, Sullivan never received a vote in the full Senate and withdrew his nomination after 15 months. His blocked nomination was another unfortunate example of the obstruction and gridlock that Udall has long spoke out against in the Senate.
Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed several executive branch nominees after Udall and Senate leaders worked to end Republican filibusters. Udall has led the fight to prevent abuse of the filibuster since he was elected to the Senate. More on Udall’s work to change the Senate filibuster rules and end congressional gridlock is available here.
Below are Udall’s remarks as delivered at today’s hearing:
Mr. Chairman, we really appreciate you holding this hearing today. As you know, I am a strong supporter of reforming our campaign finance system. I believe one important step is to have a functioning FEC, where all six seats are filled with commissioners in terms that haven’t expired. Regrettably, that hasn’t been the case for quite a while.
I hope we can begin to change that with today’s hearing.
Comprehensive campaign finance reform is crucial to our democracy. But at the very least, we need to make sure that the FEC is enforcing the laws that are on the books.
Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions have gutted many of those laws. And we have seen the devastating impact on our elections.
In the Republican presidential primaries alone last year, Super PACs spent over $100 million dollars. More than half of that was for negative TV ads – further poisoning our political process by groups that did not even have to say who was paying for all that venom — by billionaires hiding in dark corners with checkbooks open.
The Supreme Court laid the groundwork for this broken system in 1976 with Buckley v. Valeo, ruling that the restriction of independent campaign spending violated the First Amendment right to free speech. In effect, money and free speech were the same thing.
I don’t think we can truly fix this broken system until we undo that false premise.
That’s why I have again introduced a constitutional amendment. We need to overturn Buckley and the subsequent decisions that relied on it.
We’ve also tried to pass more modest reforms, such as Senator Whitehouse’s DISCLOSE Act. That bill had 40 cosponsors, but could not overcome a filibuster last year.
Campaign finance reform historically has been a bipartisan issue. I hope it will be again. In the meantime, the FEC has a vital role to play by diligently enforcing existing laws.
I welcome our nominees and look forward to hearing their testimony today.