Money, Politics, and the Crippling of the FEC: A symposium on the Federal Election Commission's arguable inability to effectively regulate money in American elections.

Trevor Potter
Apr 3, 2017

On April 3rd, 2017, CLC President Trevor Potter delivered this speech at a symposium held at the Washington College of Law at American University and the Administrative Law Review. Read excerpts and the full speech below.


We currently have a malfunctioning FEC, with one vacant commissionership and five commissioners whose terms have expired, all at the start of a new presidency, so this is an ideal time to step back and look at the FEC and talk about how to enable it to function again.


During my time on the Commission, my colleagues and I sometimes disagreed about how to enforce the law, but we did agree that the FEC’s job was to enforce the campaign finance laws passed by Congress, and to faithfully implement those laws in its regulations. 


I clearly recall a Commission meeting early in my time there when we had before us an Advisory Opinion requesting Commission approval, and it came from both the Republican and Democratic National Committees. We started a discussion, and I had a number of questions about this Advisory Opinion request, and one of the ex oficio members (i.e. the non-voting members of Congress), interrupted and said: “Excuse me, Mr. Chairman, but I don’t understand why we are having this conversation. Both parties have requested the Advisory Opinion—why do we need to even talk about it? Can’t we just approve it?”


Solving these problems will, however, require a clear-eyed recognition of the agency’s current gridlocked situation. I hope this forum will be helpful in establishing a record in that regard. 


Nonetheless, from the FEC’s creation until quite recently, the FEC was seen as a fair and reasonably effective enforcement agency, and commissioners worked hard behind the scenes to reach compromises and avoid 3-3 deadlocks. 


And that was very much the mindset, I think, of some members of the Commission. It was a mindset I strove to change as a Commission, because my view was not that we were not responsible just to the two major parties, but to other parties, to people outside the system, to the general public, and to members of congress who created this statute.

There are serious problems with the current FEC, but these problems are not insurmountable.

Read the full speech below 



Click here to download the PDF file.

Get Updates

Visit Our YouTube Page

For more Campaign Legal Center videos, visit our YouTube channel.