Federal Election Commission gets new blood

Senate approves Obama's two picks for beleaguered agency

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President Barack Obama is no longer the only president who hasn't successfully appointed someone to the Federal Election Commission.

The U.S. Senate today approved two of Obama's FEC nominees — Republican Lee E. Goodman, an attorney at law firm LeClairRyan, and Democrat Ann Miller Ravel, the head of the California Fair Political Practices Commission — by unanimous consent.

This means both appointees are slated to imminently join the beleaguered commission, which has struggled of late with sharp ideological divides and commissioner infighting over a variety of issues, including enforcement matters.

The appointments of Goodman and Ravel will restore the six-member commission, which today has two vacancies because of resignations, to full strength. The other four current commissioners are, however, all serving on expired terms, which is legal for them to do.

In messages to the Center for Public Integrity on Monday afternoon, both Ravel and Goodman said they were unaware the vote would be conducted today.

"Just heard it happened," Goodman said in a voicemail message.

"Just found out myself," Ravel wrote in an email.

Ravel followed up to explain that she plans to remain at the California Fair Political Practices Commission "for one month from today, to finish some issues that are pending and because of my commitment to the governor."

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub praised their approvals, with Ravel poised to replace Cynthia Bauerly, a Democrat who left in February, and Goodman set to replace Don McGahn, the vice chairman who resigned last week and has long clashed with Weintraub.

"I'm very excited — as soon as they can raise their right hand and take the oath, they can come on," Weintraub said. "I'm looking forward to getting some fresh perspectives, and I think we'll be able to hit the ground running."

Weintraub, a Democrat, added that the FEC would offer Ravel and Goodman detailed briefings and orientation sessions to help acclimate them to the agency, which oversees the nation's campaign finance and disclosure matters in an age when federal elections are more expensive than ever.

The Senate Rules Committee last week approved the nominations of Ravel and Goodman, setting the Senate up for its vote today. Obama nominated the pair on June 21.

In a statement, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Senate Rules Committee praised both appointees.

“Lee Goodman and Ann Ravel will be outstanding commissioners and bring a wealth of experience to the Federal Election Commission," Schumer said. "When they’re sworn in, the FEC will finally have all six of its seats filled, and the Commission will continue its important work as the independent federal watchdog for our nation’s campaign finance laws.”

Obama's only other nominee to the FEC, labor lawyer John J. Sullivan, breezed through Senate Rules Committee hearings in 2009 before both Democrats and Republicans blocked him. He withdrew himself from consideration 15 months after being nominated.

As previously noted by the Center, Ravel was appointed to the California Fair Political Practices Commission in 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

During her time there, Ravel fought to force a secretive organization that spent millions of dollars immediately on a California ballot initiative to reveal its donors. The group accused her in a court filing of "rabblerousing and prejudging, including 'tweeting' her incendiary view." In November, she wrote in a tweet that "we will seek legislation for stronger disclosure and enforcement before an election."

Ravel has previously served as deputy assistant attorney general for torts and consumer litigation in the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal records show that Ravel has made reportable campaign contributions to three Democratic presidential campaigns in recent years: $500 to John Kerry’s campaign in 2003, $2,300 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2007 and $1,000 to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.

Goodman has been with LeClairRyan since 2005. 

His previous work includes stints at Wiley Rein LLP and as deputy counselor and special counselor to the Virginia governor during the late 1990s. He likewise served as assistant attorney general of Virginia.

Goodman also worked as a registered lobbyist last decade, representing America Online and Time Warner, according to U.S. Senate disclosure records. He was an early member of the 2000 presidential vote recount team for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, according to his Republican National Lawyers Association biography

In court, he has previously argued that corporations should be allowed to make direct campaign contributions to federal political candidates.

Goodman has himself donated about $18,600 to federal candidates and political committees, FEC records show. All of that has gone to Republicans, except $300 in 2008 to the political action committee of the law firm LeClairRyan, where Goodman worked at the time.

Goodman donated $750 to Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and $2,000 to Bush’s 2004 re-election efforts

In 2008, Goodman contributed $1,000 to Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign.

He did not make campaign contributions to any of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, although he did provide legal counsel to Republican candidate and former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. In 2012, Goodman did donate $500 to Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen of Virginia and $250 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Michael Beckel contributed to this report.