With a full complement of six commissioners for the first time since early 2017, the FEC met in open session yesterday. Led by FEC Chair Shana M. Broussard and Vice Chair Allen Dickerson, the first meeting addressed a number of non-controversial matters that lent themselves to consensus. That said, there were several interesting features to the meeting.
Chair Broussard’s Goals: In addition to reducing a significant backlog of almost 450 enforcement matters, with an emphasis on those facing the statute of limitations, Chair Broussard identified several substantive goals for her year as Chair.
- Scam PAC rulemaking, to curb PACs that employ misleading tactics to divert funds that donors believe are going to support their favored candidate.
- Internet advertising disclaimers.
- Legislative recommendations to Congress, including updating the personal use rules and adding a bar on aiding and abetting the making of a contribution in the name of another.
- Improve the agency’s use of social media and website to disseminate information to the public.
The list may seem modest to some, but the FEC Chair holds the gavel for only one year, so modesty may be the best way to success. The first two items both face the peril of the devil that resides in the details, particularly how new rules would square with the First Amendment concerns that have animated the FEC’s debate in the past.
Online Platforms’ Screening of Foreign Nationals: The single substantive matter at the meeting involved an advisory opinion request from an American living abroad who asked the FEC to rule that he did not have to comply with all of Facebook’s requirements for proof of citizenship. The Commissioners unanimously declined that request. Importantly, Vice Chair Dickerson noted that the agency had not issued an opinion on what the appropriate levels of screening for foreign nationals might be, and that his views on the question were similar to those of Commissioner Weintraub. This suggestion that bi-partisan consensus might be possible on this issue, seemed an invitation to a well-tailored advisory opinion request.
Bi-partisan Consensus: While the issues before the Commission were not weighty, there was a visible effort to find common ground when Commissioners had a concern. Commissioners Weintraub and Cooksey joined with Vice Chair Dickerson to work through some issues with the phrasing of the advisory opinion and the best procedure for reaching a final decision. While difficult issues lie ahead, if Chair Broussard and Vice Chair Dickerson can build a good, collaborative, decision making process, it will go far to making the agency a more effective single voice on what the Federal Election Campaign Act and its regulations mean in their application to specific transactions. Yesterday’s meeting was a good start.