Hacking attempt draws congressional investigation of FEC

Center report highlighted woes at election watchdog

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Two congressional leaders — one Republican and one Democrat — are calling for investigations into Federal Election Commission computer security and operational breakdowns that the Center for Public Integrity detailed in a recent report.

The report revealed that Chinese hackers crashed the FEC's computer information technology systems in October just as the federal government shut down, and that the agency is suffering from chronic staffing shortages. A subsequent audit the FEC commissioned revealed a variety of other security issues.

"The revelations that FEC IT systems were compromised raises serious concerns," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee which oversees federal IT matters. "I am working with my staff and the staff of the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the extent of the breaches, and I intend to conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials."

The ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., says he, too, wants his committee to conduct an oversight hearing on FEC operations — something he described as "long overdue."

"I want to know that they have the resources available to protect sensitive information," Brady said. "More broadly, I want to know that they have the resources and personnel needed to do the job at hand."

Republican Lee Goodman, the FEC's newly elected chairman, has pledged to work in concert with Democratic Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel to swiftly address the agency's IT needs, including hiring security specialists and diverting funding to bolstering its systems. Ravel says she plans to work closely with Goodman.

It is a marked change in tone for the agency's leaders. Former Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, and Vice Chairman Don McGahn, a Republican, rarely spoke to one another. When they did last year, it often came in the form of protracted, and public arguments during commission meetings.

Brady praised the initial efforts of Goodman and Ravel. But he stressed that Congress, which has often paid the FEC scant attention, needs to focus more on the bipartisan agency, which has also experienced historically high levels of inaction in recent years — largely the product of ideological battles among commissioners.

"In recent years, FEC action has decreased significantly, mostly the result of partisan gridlock," Brady said. "We cannot afford to continue down that path. The evolving landscape of campaign funding only makes things worse. Campaign funding is getting more complex and it is up to the FEC to guide candidates and keep them within the bounds of the law."

A spokeswoman for Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, declined to comment on the FEC's troubles or on whether the committee plans any investigation.

Leaders of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee — chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kansas — did not respond to questions this week. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee's jurisdiction includes FEC oversight.

The White House, too, has repeatedly refused to comment on the FEC's problems. Obama spokesman Eric Schultz told the Center this month it will "get a response when we have one."