FEC's top Democrat takes show on road

Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel criss-crossing country in bid to boost agency's profile, tout disclosure



Average people don't seem to care about the Federal Election Commission, and the FEC, in its insularity, doesn't seem to care much about such people.

That's Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel's dour assessment about her often bedraggled agency's state of affairs — a state she's bent on changing through a one-woman public relations gambit that will criss-cross the country and begins tonight in Denver.

On most of the issues before the FEC, the agency receives input from a small set of election lawyers, political practitioners and special interest groups, Ravel notes. The agency, which only has a physical presence in Washington, D.C., must work harder to connect with people outside the Beltway who nevertheless care about how federal campaigns are waged.

"I've been surprised with the FEC and how insular it is," said Ravel, who became a commissioner in October 2013 and vice chairwoman in January. "There's no mechanism for this commission to listen to people's questions on campaign finance issues, so my response is to do this."

Ravel's outreach tour, which also includes stops Tuesday in Chicago and in Atlanta on Oct. 23, likely foreshadows how she'll conduct business in 2015, when she's slated to assume the FEC's rotating chairmanship. Ravel confirmed she will travel to at least several other cities upon becoming chairwoman.

Ravel says she's mostly interested in soliciting people's opinions and ideas about campaign finance matters, regardless of their political persuasions. Her staff, she said, has invited tea party faithful, civic groups and campaign money reformers alike to weigh in at her events. Anyone else is welcomed to attend as well.

But Ravel, who until last year led the California Fair Political Practices Commission as an outspoken political disclosure advocate, acknowledged she won't be shy about her concerns that "dark money" — cash used by politically active groups that don't reveal their funders — is souring public elections.

"I'm not setting out with a hope that people will conform with or just accept how I feel," she said. "But yes, there's no question that disclosure, it's in my mind ... I'm concerned about the money spent in campaigns that's not disclosed, and I think that it's a problem. Maybe people don't agree with me. We'll see.

How this effort will play with Ravel's FEC colleagues is an open question.

While current Republican FEC Chairman Lee Goodman and Ravel are often at ideological odds, and not immune to bickering, they've been cordial with one another during their 10 months as chairman and vice chairwoman. They've co-hosted several public events and forums about the FEC and political campaign issues, ending months of personal acrimony between the previous FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, and Republican Vice Chairman Don McGahn. 

And today, Goodman and Ravel struck a compromiseover the objections of Weintraub and Commissioner Steven Walther — to approve a perfunctory but long-awaited measure that aligns FEC regulations with the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. (A similar measure addressing the more recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision passed unanimously — with the understanding that the FEC will conduct a formal public hearing at some future date.)

Ravel also split with her left-leaning colleagues to cobble together a 4-2 ruling, requested by both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, that will allow the two committees to raise an extra $32,400 from wealthy donors to put toward political party conventions. This move earned Ravel the ire of good-government advocates.

Ravel said that her out-of-town events are solo affairs by design. Her colleague, Goodman, declined to comment on her travels.

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