WASHINGTON -- Cynthia Bauerly, one of six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, handed in her resignation on Friday and will officially leave the body that oversees campaign finance regulation in February.
"It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the Federal Election Commission since 2008," Bauerly, one of the three Democrats on the commission, wrote in the resignation letter obtained by The Huffington Post. "I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the country in this role and I will step down on February 1, 2013."
Bauerly's resignation may spark changes in the commission, which has been plagued by partisanship and inaction and is routinely cited as one of the most dysfunctional government bodies. According to election law professor Rick Hasen, the agency is "as good as dead."
Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer, the dean of campaign finance reformers, hopes that Bauerly's resignation can begin the process of replacing members of the commission. Five of the commissioners, including Bauerly, have served well past the expiration of their terms. The term of the sixth, Caroline Hunter, will expire in April.
"I would hope that this is a breakthrough in getting some needed changes on the commission and moving away from the dysfunctional FEC that we've had for the last few years," Wertheimer said.
Both Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan campaign finance group, have called for the replacement of all of the commissioners currently serving expired terms. The White House and the Senate have done little to appoint new commissioners, angering campaign finance watchdog groups.
"I don't really think they've said anything of substance," Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, said of the White House's statements on appointing new FEC commissioners.
Bauerly's resignation, however, could provide an opening for the White House to do more than just appoint her successor.
"We're no longer in the position here where the administration can say, 'we have six commissioners, so we don't have to do anything,'" Wertheimer says.
Since 2008, the commission has been unable to reach agreements on issues both major and minor, ranging from small enforcement matters to the need to update and clarify disclosure rules in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.
"I can imagine it has been quite a frustrating place for Commissioner Bauerly to have worked for the past four years," Ryan said.
Problems at the FEC are likely to remain, Wertheimer notes, as the three Republican commissioners, who stand opposed to new disclosure rules and have voted against multiple enforcement actions, are still in their seats. After Bauerly's departure, the commission will operate with just five commissioners and will still require four votes for any rule to be implemented or action to be taken. This will leave the commission without a clear majority in favor of enforcing many parts of the law, as it has been for at least four years.
"The major problem with the commission has been the three Republican commissioners being ideologically opposed to the law and therefore consistently blocking its enforcement," Wertheimer said.
Read Cynthia Bauerly's full resignation letter:
It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the Federal Election Commission since 2008. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the country in this role and I will step down on February 1, 2013. The past several years have presented rapid and challenging developments in the area of campaign finance law. Throughout, I have had the pleasure of serving with the Commission's talented and dedicated professional staff as we worked to provide the public with disclosure of campaign spending and to prevent corruption through the federal campaign finance system. This shared commitment to transparency and effective enforcement of the law is vital to maintaining public confidence in our election process.