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• Blunt’s statement is directly contradicted by H.R. 1’s language, which says that “no more than two” of the five members “may be affiliated with the same political party,” with a fifth member unaffiliated with either of those two parties.
• However, assuring that the fifth member will truly be independent requires some trust. If a fifth member did make it through the vetting process but later showed partisan leanings, the newly five-member commission could for the first time in its history enforce policy without bipartisan support.
Republicans have expressed universal opposition to H.R. 1, a bill to overhaul election and campaign finance procedures that passed by the House with only Democratic support. The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate.
One Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, cited a specific provision in the bill during an interview on the March 22 edition of NBC’s "Meet the Press."
Under the bill, Blunt said, "there's a partisan Federal Election Commission, where for the first time ever, instead of being an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, it's three of one side and two of the other."
Is Blunt correct that the FEC — which enforces federal campaign-finance laws — would shift from a body divided evenly by party to one where one party has a 3-to-2 edge? No, although there are some wrinkles worth noting.
Under current law, the FEC has six commissioners — three aligned with Democrats and three aligned with Republicans. Given partisan polarization, this has meant continued gridlock, as well as long stretches where new commissioners aren’t confirmed, leaving the FEC short of a quorum for significant actions.
"For far too long, the FEC has been plagued by dysfunction because a bloc of commissioners has taken a hands-off approach to enforcing the laws we have on the books — laws that are designed to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption," said Danielle Caputo, legislative affairs counsel at Issue One, a campaign-finance advocacy group.
This history is what led the drafters of H.R. 1 to propose an alternate design for the commission.
Under the bill, the FEC would be "composed of five members appointed by the president by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, of whom no more than two may be affiliated with the same political party." (This means they would be Senate-confirmed.)
The fifth, unaffiliated member could not, for a five-year period before their nomination, be registered with one of the two major parties; work or consult for one of the parties; or be a donor, officer, or attorney with one of the parties or its candidates or officials.
Officially, the president would make nominations, but each commissioner, including the unaffiliated commissioner, would be brought to the president’s attention by a "Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel that includes individuals representing each major political party and individuals who are independent of a political party and that consists of an odd number of individuals selected by the President from retired Federal judges, former law enforcement officials, or individuals with experience in election law."
The idea "is to put a professional civil servant in charge instead of — to put it bluntly — a political hack," said Eliza Newlin Carney, a veteran campaign-finance journalist in Washington.
Because the language of H.R. 1 specifically requires that no party control more than two of the five seats, the scenario Blunt laid out — "three of one side and two of the other" — could not come to pass.
Blunt’s characterization "is not accurate," Caputo said. "A restructured FEC would not just be one party versus the other. There would likely be two Democratic commissioners, two Republican commissioners, and one independent/unaffiliated commissioner, preventing any side from holding the majority or the agency from becoming partisan."
Katie Boyd, a spokeswoman for Blunt, said that having an unaffiliated commissioner is no guarantee of preventing a 3-to-2 edge. "The FEC currently has an ‘independent,’ Steven Walther, who was former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s attorney" and whom Axios recently described as being "widely considered a Democrat-aligned vote," Boyd said.
Boyd also pointed to a letter signed by nine former FEC commissioners that casts doubt on the degree of "deadlock" and its impact on campaign-finance enforcement.
"The complaints about ‘deadlocks’ come from the regulatory activists who haven’t gotten their way," the letter says. "They now seek to change the bipartisan nature of the commission, to smooth the path for agency adoption of the more expansive regulations they have unsuccessfully sought for years. Congress has consistently declined to adopt those expansive objectives."
The nine former commissioners said a switch would be "ruinous."
"In rule-making, the FEC’s bipartisan structure is a beneficial feature, not a defect. It demands that commissioners work to reach consensus and compromise on measures to achieve bipartisan support. If Congress wanted to destroy confidence in the fairness of American elections, it is hard to imagine a better first step than to eviscerate the FEC’s bipartisan structure."
Others, however, say that it wouldn’t be hard to find an open-minded, genuinely non-partisan fifth member.
"According to Gallup, more than 40% of Americans are independents," said Caputo. "The Blue Ribbon Panel created by this legislation would help the president find nominees who are both fully committed to upholding our nation’s campaign finance laws and truly unaffiliated with either Democrats or Republicans."
Blunt said that under H.R. 1, the FEC "for the first time ever, instead of being an equal number of Republicans and Democrats (would be) three of one side and two of the other."
H.R. 1 would reduce the number of FEC commissioners from six to five. But the bill says that "no more than two" of the five members "may be affiliated with the same political party." The fifth member would be unaffiliated with either of the two major parties. So Blunt’s claim of a 3-2 split cannot come to fruition.
However, it’s worth pointing out that assuring that the fifth member will truly be independent requires some trust. If a fifth member did make it through the vetting process but later showed partisan leanings, the newly five-member commission could for the first time in its history enforce policy without bipartisan support.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Roy Blunt, remarks on NBC’s "Meet the Press," March 21, 2021
Congress.gov, text of H.R. 1, accessed March 22, 2021
Open letter signed by nine former FEC commissioners, accessed March 22, 2021
Axios, "Biden urged to pack FEC with 'pro-enforcement' members," Mar. 12, 2021
Roll Call, "Walther Takes On Washington," Jan. 13, 2009
Email interview with Danielle Caputo, legislative affairs counsel at Issue One, March 22, 2021
Email interview with Eliza Newlin Carney, long-time campaign-finance journalist in Washington, March 22, 2021
Email interview with Adav Noti, senior director for trial litigation and chief of staff at the Campaign Legal Center, March 22, 2021
Email interview with Katie Boyd, spokeswoman for Roy Blunt, March 22, 2021
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