“Busted & Broke: Why the Federal Election Commission doesn’t work”


Issue One’s latest report, “Busted & Broke: Why the Federal Election Commission doesn’t work,” reveals why the FEC is dysfunctional and how the agency lacks the budget, staff, and teeth it needs to enforce the country’s campaign finance laws as the 2020 elections unfold.
While it is common knowledge that the FEC gridlocks frequently, it is less known that the agency is severely understaffed and underfunded. The lack of resources is crippling the enforcement of existing election and anti-corruption laws….

New research by Issue One shows:

There has been a dramatic decline in fines issued by the FEC. During the past five years, the median amount of fines issued by the FEC annually was just $825,000 (in 2018 dollars), compared to $4.6 million (adjusted for inflation) in the five years following the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.

If one more commissioner leaves the FEC, the agency will cease to function. There are currently two vacancies on the six-member commission, and four votes are required to take action. The FEC currently needs unanimous consent to take action on anything. Additionally, each sitting commissioner is serving on a well-expired term, including Chair Ellen Weintraub, who has been at the agency for more than 16 years. (Each FEC commissioner’s term is supposed to be six years.) The last two commissioners — Republican Lee Goodman and Democrat Ann Ravel — both left the agency before serving a full six years.

The FEC suffers from ongoing, crippling brain drain and low morale. The FEC has lost 24 employees during the past three years without replacing them. Over the past 16 years, roughly one in five employees has left the FEC without being replaced — including a pair of commissioners and numerous high-level officials. 

The FEC’s budget has stagnated — but its oversight responsibilities have not. The agency’s enforcement division has shrunk to just 41 employees — down from 59 in 2010 — while the case backlog continues to grow (from 100 cases in 2010 to 329 in 2018).


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