The Federal Elections Commission was left without a quorum Monday when vice chairman Matthew Petersen, the fourth member of the already depleted agency, resigned, just months before the 2020 election cycle kicks into gear with the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.
At three members, the FEC is left toothless and without the power to even convene meetings—much less enforce the rules.
The FEC can no longer:— Joe Yerardi (@JoeYerardi) August 26, 2019
Vote on the outcome of investigations https://t.co/ZVYyGLvZs7
"The timing couldn't be worse," wrote Mother Jones reporter Russ Choma. "The 2020 election is predicted to be the most expensive election in history, and a raft of unresolved questions are facing the FEC when it comes to how to enforce rules to keep foreign influence out of American democracy."
Elections expert and University of California-Davis professor Rick Hasen told Choma that the FEC was already running at historically ineffective levels in the Trump era, but at least operating with a quorum allowed it some ability to protect the democratic process.
"Even if the Democrats and Republicans on the commissioners would deadlock on ordinary enforcement matters, there is at least a chance they could come together in an emergency to help ensure the integrity of the 2020 campaign," said Hasen.
In a statement, Common Cause president Kate Hobert Flynn said Petersen's resignation, and the lack of interest on the part of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in filling the commission's empty seats, were a danger to the country.
"Americans deserve an FEC willing and able to enforce the laws passed by Congress to protect the integrity of our elections and the President must nominate new commissioners who will serve as the cops on the beat," said Flynn. "While the agency may have fallen short of fulfilling its duties in recent years, to leave the FEC without a quorum to act would court disaster."
Think Progress explained the role of Washington's two most powerful Republicans:
President Donald Trump has made little effort to appoint new commissioners since taking office. But the one nomination he has made—pro-Trump attorney Trey Trainor of Texas—has been waiting for a confirmation hearing since September 2017.
McConnell has dubbed himself the "grim reaper," blocking virtually all legislative action in the United States Senate and focusing almost exclusively on confirming Trump’s nominees. But the Federal Election Commission has been a notable exception.
In a statement, FEC chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said the agency would be ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to continue its mission, irrespective of quorum or enforcement.
"The FEC will still be able to shine a strong spotlight on the finances of the 2020 campaign," said Weintraub.