Legislation & policy analysis

Seven lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to fix the Federal Election Commission

Last week, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Scott Peters (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), and Julia Brownley (D-CA) re-introduced bipartisan legislation to overhaul the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission (FEC) and to ensure effective and consistent enforcement of the nation’s election laws.

The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act (H.R. 1272) makes structural changes to the FEC to better equip the unbiased cop on the beat of our nation’s campaign finance system.

“Our country is founded on the principal that we are a nation of laws, not men,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “This bedrock democratic value should guide our nation’s policy making. But powerful forces in Washington continue to block meaningful reform of this gridlocked-by-design agency. Opponents assert that structuring the FEC with an odd number of commissioners would turn the agency into a partisan weapon wielded by the president — but it is notable that they do not say this about the more than 100 other federal agencies which are structured exactly the same way and have significantly more power.”

In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, the single most important reform that Congress could take immediately is to put teeth into the Federal Election Commission.

The Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act (H.R. 1272) would:

  • Model the structure of the FEC to be the same as almost every single independent agency in Washington, most of whom have much more power and affect many more people.
  • Reduce the number of commissioners from six to five, likely ending the near-permanent stalemate that confronts the agency now.
  • Term-limit commissioners and permit no more than two commissioners to be members of the same political party, while allowing the president to appoint the chair of the agency to a 10-year term, subject to confirmation by the Senate. This aims to ensure no party has a majority on the commission and prevent House and Senate leaders from simply appointing party loyalists.
  • Create a Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel of unbiased experts to recommend individuals for nomination by the president, in order to end the practice of commissioners serving on expired terms until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
  • Allow the chair to absorb more administrative tasks, freeing commissioners to focus less on staff-related issues and more on questions of campaign finance and election law.

The FEC is one of only five executive branch agencies with an even number of commissioners. The others include the Commission on Civil Rights, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, International Trade Commission, and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). It should appall Congress and voters alike that the two agencies whose responsibilities include federal election oversight and security in our country — the FEC and EAC — are both the most dysfunctional and designed to be toothless tigers.

Learn more about the bill here.