(Update, 8:05 a.m., Sept. 13, 2017: Trump has nominated Trey Trainor to serve on the FEC. He is a Texas election law attorney who last year represented Trump's presidential campaign and briefly served in the president's administration. It appears Trainor would fill the seat Goodman plans to vacate, not the seat Petersen would vacate upon his appointment as a federal judge.
A graduate of Texas A&M Law School and current attorney with private firm Akerman LLP, Trainor has also previously represented the Republican National Committee and Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, and he's served as general counsel to the Texas Secretary of State, according to his law firm biography. Trainor could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. The White House acknowledged written questions from the Center for Public Integrity but has not answered them.
In January, upon being selected as a special assistant to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Trainor told the Texas Tribune: "I'm happy to be one of the initial employees in the Trump administration and happy to be working to implement the policy and goals that the American people sent President Trump here to do."
Opinions on Trainor's potential service as an FEC commissioner differ widely.
Scott Braddock, editor of Texas political newsletter Quorum Report, said of Trainor: "No one has fought against transparency in Texas elections with as much energy as President Trump's nominee for the Federal Election Commission. This is a great day for those who don't want you to know who is spending big bucks to influence your vote."
Goodman, for his part, praised Trainor: "I've known Trey for close to a decade and know him to be an excellent and thoughtful lawyer. Trey Trainor will bring a principled libertarian perspective to the FEC. I believe President Trump has made an excellent choice for the future of the FEC."
Update, 3:13 p.m., Sept. 14, 2017: Upon sending Trainor's nomination to the U.S. Senate for consideration, the White House changed the commissioner term Trainor will fill. He's now slated to replace Petersen instead of Goodman.)
Independent Steven Walther, meanwhile, hasn’t committed to staying on much past his one-year term as FEC chairman, which ends at the year’s conclusion.
And Republican Vice Chairwoman Caroline Hunter, a nine-year commission veteran who couldn’t be reached for comment, has previously been coy about whether she soon plans to leave the FEC for other potential opportunities — private practice, party politics, a spot in the Trump administration.
Even with a quorum, FEC action of any sort would require almost unprecedented unanimity among members of a frequently fractious foursome. If just one of the four commissioners fell ill, or declared a recusal-triggering conflict of interest, the remaining regulators would be forced to shelve commission business, at least in part.
The FEC is already “so dysfunctional now,” said Ann Ravel, a former Democratic commissioner who frequently clashed with her Republican colleagues and resigned March 1. “But it may [now] be exacerbated so people will understand that there is literally no chance of there being any consequence to the failure to abide by the law.”
As it stands, Trump could nominate a new slate of regulators to fill all six FEC commissioner slots.
That’s because Petersen and his four commissioner colleagues continue to serve as “holdovers” despite their six-year FEC terms having all long ago expired.
Ellen Weintraub, the commission’s lone Democrat, is an extreme: her term ended in April 2007 — two years before a certain billionaire businessman with an NBC reality show would tweet his first tweet. (Weintraub, who said Thursday she lamented how “people now may feel even more empowered to push against the law,” added she has no plans to leave the FEC voluntarily.)
But Trump, despite his “drain the swamp” mantra and anti-voter fraud zeal, has all but ignored the FEC — Congress’s post-Watergate answer to campaign shenanigans and election corruption.
His lack of interest is even more striking given that his White House counsel, Don McGahn, is a campaign finance and elections lawyer previously best known for waging war on campaign finance restrictions as an FEC commissioner.