Not 'essential': Shutdown would hit FEC hard

All employees of election agency would be furloughed — save for commissioners themselves

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If the federal government shuts down Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission — unlike some government agencies filled with employees deemed "essential" — will effectively go dark.

Organizationally, all but the FEC's four active commissioners, who are furlough-proof political appointees, would ultimately stay home.

In all, 335 of the agency's 339 employees would be affected, according to its 10-page "Commission Plan for Agency Operations in the Absence of the Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriation."

A small number of staff members, such as staff director Alec Palmer, would briefly work into a shutdown to help secure FEC facilities and records and aid with the agency's wind-down, the plan states.

And no one could labor on their own time and dime, as FEC staffers "are prohibited from performing any work functions while on furlough status, even on a voluntary basis," the agency's shutdown plan states.

A message posted to the FEC's website Monday evening elaborated: "Agency staff will not report to work, some computer systems will be powered down and the agency’s headquarters will be closed."

For political committees and the public, such a work stoppage likely means noticeable, even significant delays in publishing campaign finance disclosures and conducting commission proceedings.

It's also likely to generate confusion among the thousands of committees required to file disclosure documents with the FEC, which during the 2012 election cycle accounted for billions of dollars in federal-level political transactions.

As of Monday night, this much is known:

  • Communication with the agency would all but stop. "The agency’s telephone system will not be turned off during the shutdown, but staff will not be available to answer any calls," the FEC writes. "Email messages sent to staff will not be reviewed, and postal mail and other services will be delayed until the agency reopens." Palmer, the staff director, would be directed to leave his mobile phone charged and on so that he "may be contacted in the event of an emergency."
     
  • The FEC.gov website would still be online, but don't expect it post new information during a shutdown. Independent expenditure disclosures and new political committee registrations, along with other information that's typically updated daily, would temporarily unpublished.
     
  • The agency notes that although "interactive, web-based programs and electronic filing systems may be available for a temporary period of time after the shutdown, IT staff will not be available to monitor and resolve any technological issues that may arise regarding those systems."
     
  • Depending on how long a shutdown lasts, several filing deadlines could come and go with no operating FEC. On Thursday, for example, pre-primary campaign finance filings in the Massachusetts 5th congressional district special election are due. Friday, meanwhile, is the deadline for pre-general election reports in New Jersey's high-profile U.S. Senate special election on Oct. 16, in which Democrat Cory Booker is battling Republican Steve Lonegan.
     
  • Deeper into the month — Oct. 15 — looms a major quarterly filing deadline for hundreds of congressional candidates and some other political committees. A monthly filing deadline for political party committees and other political action committees follows on Oct. 20. If a shutdown persists, the public may be forced to wait days, or even weeks, longer for comprehensive access to the income and expenditure information these committees must disclose.
     
  • FEC officials explain they don't "have statutory authority to extend filing deadlines." But they suggestion they won't "pursue administrative fines against filers prevented from filing by reasonably unforeseen circumstances beyond their control." The commission further writes that it "will not pursue administrative fines against filers with reports due during the shutdown who fail to file on a timely basis, so long as they file within 24 hours after the commission resumes operations."
     
  • FEC educational events and scheduled meetings would be iced. The next scheduled public FEC meeting is Oct. 10. An closed-door executive session is scheduled for Oct. 8.
     
  • The agency promises to "reopen on the first regular business day after its funding legislation is enacted."

A shutdown would come just as the commission is slated to regain a full complement of commissioners, as the Senate last week approved the nominations of Republican Lee Goodman and Democrat Ann Ravel. Both appointees won't be around for any shutdown's start, however, as say they aren't planning to begin their FEC terms until late October.

In a related matter, the Supreme Court appears that it will still conduct its October business regardless of whether there's a government shutdown. That's notable because oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that could allow individuals the ability to donate money to more political committees, are scheduled for Oct. 8.