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The FEC: Money, politics & partisan divide

George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act into law on Oct. 29, 2002.

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HAVA was born out of the voter suppression, polling errors and flawed electronic voting machines in various U.S. counties in the Bush vs. Gore 2000 pres. election.

From 2001 to 2006, Bob Ney (R-OH) was Chairman of the Committee on House Admin. He was the chief sponsor of HAVA. Ney introduced the legislation in the House of Reps. on Nov. 14, 2001

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Bob Ney

David DiStefano was his friend and former chief of staff turned Diebold lobbyist.

Diebold (formerly Global Election Systems and now Premier Election Solutions) is the electronic voting machine company that produces machines with various security flaws and are easily hacked.

As of 2010, Diebold/Premier accounted for 30% of U.S. electronic voting machines used today. It was founded by 3 criminals.

Ney claims DiStefano “crossed the line in a huge way” while Ney was working to get HAVA enacted.

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From 2003–2005, Diebold paid DiStefano $225,000 to lobby HAVA and other election reform issues.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign advisor, worked for Ney as an admin asst. from 1997–2001.

Lewandowski and Ney were close.

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During Ney’s time in Congress (1995–2006) he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts in return for using his legislative influence.

In 2007, he went to prison after pleading guilty to two charges of conspiracy and making false statements in relation to Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals.

The EAC was created out of HAVA. It was meant to “assist the states regarding HAVA compliance and to distribute HAVA funds to the states.”

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It was also created to perform the tasks outside of the federal election regulation and campaign finance work performed by the FEC.

The FEC has six commissioners, no more than three of whom may come from any one political party. Any commission action requires a four-vote majority.

Combined, the EAC and FEC are meant to help ensure free and equitable U.S. elections.

In 2001, McConnell testified about campaign finance reform before the House Administration Committee. He compared it to static cling.

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He sued the FEC in 2003. The lawsuit posed two questions:

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The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act) became law on Nov. 6, 2002. It was meant to address two issues:

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SCOTUS decided 5–4 in favor of the FEC.

In June 2008, five Bush nominees were confirmed to the FEC: Cynthia L. Bauerly (D), Steven T. Walther (I), Matthew S. Petersen (R), Caroline C. Hunter (R) and Donald F. McGahn (R).

The confirmations were part of a deal struck by Harry Reid (D-NV) and McConnell to break the “partisan logjam and allow the agency to resume functioning.”

They joined Ellen L. Weintraub (D) whose term had expired April 2007 but remains at the FEC.

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Ellen L. Weintraub

Steven T. Walther (I) was a recess appointment sworn in January 2006. His term expired on Dec. 31, 2007 but was reconfirmed and remains on the commission. He’s the 2017 FEC chairman.

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Steven T. Walther

Matthew S. Petersen (R) had previously served as counsel to the Committee on House Admin (2002–2005) at the time Ney was chairman of the committee.

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Matthew S. Petersen

He worked “extensively” on crafting and negotiating the passage of HAVA.

He was Repub. Chief Counsel at the U.S. Senate Rules and Admin Committee (2005–2008) at the same time Dodd and McConnell were on the comm.

From 1999 to 2002, he specialized in election and campaign finance law at the law firm of Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, DC.

Petersen was the FEC chairman in 2010, 2016 and remains at the FEC.

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Caroline C. Hunter

From 2001 to 2005, Caroline C. Hunter (R) worked as associate and then deputy counsel at the RNC. She provided guidance on election law and the HAVA implementation. Prior to that she worked on the Bush-Quayle 1992 campaign.

From Jan. to Oct. 2006, she served as dep. dir. for Bush’s WH Office of Public Liaison. Despite minimal election law experience, she was nominated by Bush to the EAC. She served as EAC vice chair from 2007–2008.

Hunter’s husband, Justin Hunter, is a lobbyist for HealthSouth Corp. In 2007-2008 he donated a total of $1,500 to McConnell.

From 2007–2010, he donated a total of $4,000 to Reid.

Caroline Hunter is currently the FEC vice chair.

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Donald F. McGahn

Before being confirmed to the FEC in 2008, McGahn worked as chief counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1999–2008.

He was Rep. Tom Delay’s lawyer and ethics advisor in 2005 when DeLay was accused of “accepting trips, gifts, and political donations from Jack Abramoff in exchange for providing legislative favors to Abramoff’s clients.”

DeLay was never indicted for this scandal but 2 of his aides plead guilty. This was the same scandal that sent Ney to prison.

In 2005, McGahn was also the attorney for DeLay’s PAC (Armpac) when it broke election law by paying expenses from the wrong account.

McGahn was also DeLay’s attorney when Delay was indicted for “conspiring to launder corporate cash into campaign contributions” to DeLay’s PAC Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC). DeLay’s conviction was later overturned.

And then there’s Russia.

In the 1990s, DeLay used to travel to Moscow. In 1997, he met with Russian church leaders, businessmen and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, former head of Gazprom.

The Russians were attempting to lobby the U.S. gov for increased foreign aid.

In 2006, McGahn defended DeLay’s dealings w/ the Russians when a political campaign ad came out against DeLay.

McGahn and McConnell share a deep common belief against campaign finance regulation.

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In 2010, the landmark “Citizens United v. FEC” overruled “Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce” and portions of “McConnell v. FEC.”

The suit asked four questions:

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“By a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, the majority held that under the First Amendment corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited.”

In 2011, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a FOIA request for, among other items, “records showing communications the three Republican commissioners — Don McGahn, Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter — had with those outside the agency (FEC).”

After 2 1/2 months the FEC produced no records. CREW sued and 800 pages of documents were received within weeks.

From the collection of documents, CREW ascertained the following:

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For example, “The Republican commissioners communicated repeatedly with staff members at the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), an outside group that opposes campaign finance regulations and is led by former FEC officials.”

Repub. congressmen heaped praise on Hunter for her 2009 Roll Call op-ed in which she refuted McCain and Feingold blocking President Obama’s nominee to the FEC because they believed the agency was “mired in anti-enforcement gridlock.”

In a 2011 FEC filing, Facebook argued that labeling political ads was impractical because “For political committees, the Internet has become ‘the most accessible marketplace of ideas in history.”

In 2012, the FEC had an opportunity to further define regulations around disclaimers on political videos on YouTube. It deadlocked 3–3 on any decision.

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Around this same time, the FEC was also dealing w/ the potential of securing its own data in an effort to protect against hackers.

In Nov. 2012, an independent audit of the FEC’s internal computer systems was released that warned its IT system was vulnerable and at a “high risk” of being infiltrated.

In Oct. 2013, just after the fed. gov. shutdown, China hacked into the FEC computer system.

In Dec. 2013, The Center for Public Integrity released its findings of a 6-month FEC investigation. It found the committee to be “rotting from the inside out.”

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In 2015 and 2016, The FEC was considered the worst agency to work at in the fed gov.

McGahn resigned from the FEC in Sept. 2013 and was replaced by Lee Goodman (R). He was nominated by pres. Obama on the advice of McConnell.

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Lee Goodman hasn’t been much different than McGahn in most regards. In June 2015, he admitted to blocking complaints against Repubs.

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Ann Ravel was also nominated and confirmed to the FEC at the same time.

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Although Ravel entered with ambitions for shining more light on the dark money being spent on elections, the FEC more or less continued its path of gridlock on passing any major regulation.

As time went by and the campaign advertising began to ramp up for the 2016 presidential election, it became more evident that the FEC’s outdated policies were no match for foreign interference.

Ravel warned of Putin’s potential for intruding in U.S. elections.

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And for doing so, she was met with w/ “harassment and death threats.”

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In 2016, the FEC again deadlocked on regulating YouTube.

In 2016, it also deadlocked on regulating Twitter.

The FEC also missed out in other ways to regulate campaign financing.

At a 2015 event in which Trump announced he would be running for president, his campaign paid $12,000 to actors for their attendance. Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, denied paying anyone to attend the event.

The FEC later found that it was clear Trump’s campaign paid the actors but that since the amount of money was so small, they let it slide.

In 2016, a report released by The Intercept, found that in 2015 the American Pacific International Capital (APIC), a company owned by Chinese nationals, donated $1.3 million to Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, Right to Rise USA.

This was perhaps, the first “specific example of foreign money flowing into U.S. presidential politics” since the Citizens United decision.

In Nov. 2016, McGahn was named White House Counsel. McGahn has lengthy ties to Trump. His uncle “Paddy,” for example, worked for Trump in various Atlantic City deals.

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Ravel resigned in February 2017 leaving a vacant spot on the commission.

In Sept. 2017, Trump nominated FEC Commissioner Petersen to serve as a U.S. Dist. Judge of the U.S. District Court for D.C.

Trump has nominated Trey Trainor to fill Petersen’s spot. Trainor’s a TX Repub who’s built his reputation on undermining campaign finance regulation.

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Goodman expects to be gone soon too.

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Weintraub’s stayed on for an additional decade. She has no plans to voluntarily leave the commission.

As reports continue to surface regarding alleged election meddling by the Trump campaign and foreign entities, the social networks seem to be coming around.

The FEC recently reported it had received more than 150,000 comments during its public comment period regarding the prospect of requiring that paid political ads contain a “purchased by” label on social media sites.

On Nov. 16, 2017 the FEC voted unanimously to go forward with rule-making on disclaimers for Internet political ads.

While many agree it’s a good first step, the FEC has a ways to go to limit further outside undue influence in the next elections.

Contact the FEC and let the commission know what you think:
1–800–424–9530, info@fec.gov, @FEC

Written by

Citizen Journalist

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