The Federal Election Commission is essentially toast.
Last week, Matthew Petersen, its Republican vice chairman, resigned, leaving the six-member panel with only three members — one person short of the requisite quorum.
“Without a quorum, certain Commission activities will not take place,” said FEC commissioner Caroline C. Hunter in a statement. “For example, the Commission will not be able to hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings.”
In one of his last actions, Petersen, along with Hunter, also a Republican, stopped the FEC from using its powers as intended. They blocked an investigation into a report that Alexander Torshin (a Russian central banker close to Russian President Vladimir Putin) and Maria Butina used the NRA as “a conduit” to illegally funnel money between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Butina later pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian state. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Now the FEC’s dysfunction is tumbling toward disaster. The regulatory agency charged with enforcing campaign finance laws in federal elections has been kneecapped during a general election season already under a sustained attack by enemies both foreign and domestic.
We already know the foreign interloper. In his report and testimony before Congress, former special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed what intelligence agencies have been saying for more than two years: In a sustained and multi-faceted campaign, Russia interfered in the 2016 general election in what Mueller called a “sweeping and systematic fashion.”
“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller warned Congress in July. He later added, “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”
We also know the domestic enemies — President Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Perhaps emboldened by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s vexing inaction against him, Trump has said he would “take” help from Russia for the 2020 election. He’s still lying about widespread voter fraud (not a thing) while ignoring voter suppression (a major thing). Fearing fair elections means victory for Democrats, Trump has no interest in anything that might arrest the election system’s growing inequity.
As for McConnell, he’s doing nothing to avert potential disaster. No FEC commissioner has been confirmed since McConnell became Senate majority leader. He has thwarted every effort to safeguard our elections from foreign interference. Days after Mueller issued his dire warnings, McConnell blocked two bills designed to heighten election security. “It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia,” he said.
There’s no hype, only facts: The Trump campaign invited help from Russia.
It goes without saying that neither Trump nor McConnell is losing any sleep over a gutted FEC. It’s yet another sign of how abandoned norms have lurched this nation into crisis, its foundation slowly crumbling beneath our feet.
Trump and McConnell don’t care about protecting voters or the voting process. They’re unconcerned about money flooding in to further corrupt elections. Neither cares about interference from any foreign country so long as the GOP remains the beneficiary, as it was three years ago.
They’re hostile toward the sanctity of our elections — which means they’re hostile toward democracy.
Protecting our election process shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and the bills McConnell has rejected have received bipartisan support. Everyone should want fair elections untainted by dark money, blatant political chicanery (as we saw in Georgia’s gubernatorial elections last year), and the malicious actions of other countries to further erode the process by which this nation’s leaders are chosen.
Instead, Trump and McConnell side with duplicity and deception, as democracy dies in daylight and plain sight, right before our bewildered eyes.