While Trump routinely rails against Democratic obstruction of his various executive branch nominees — “disgraceful!” — the lack of new FEC commissioners is a function of Trump failing to nominate anyone to the agency save for Texas attorney Trey Trainor. Trump first nominated Trainor, a Republican who supported Trump’s presidential campaign, more than seven months ago to replace Petersen, Trump’s failed pick for a U.S. District Court judgeship.
The White House did not respond to several requests for comment last week and has for months refused to answer questions about the FEC.
Trump, though, is no stranger to the agency: he’s frequently opined about campaign money issues and his White House counsel is former FEC Chairman Don McGahn, an outspoken critic of campaign regulations.
Trump has also been subject to several FEC complaints, most recently involving hush money payments facilitated by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
“It’s hard to say what’s going on at the White House, and I have no idea if [inaction] is purposefully directed at the FEC, or if it’s no one’s priority,” Weintraub said.
“No administration has done well nominating, but this administration is just doing it worse — there’s really no excuse,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which with the Washington Post tracks presidential nominations and rates government agencies on their workplace quality.
The FEC ranked 27 out of 28 small federal government agencies in the Partnership for Public Service’s most recent survey.
The U.S. Senate, too, has largely ignored the FEC.
Although it oversees FEC functions, it hasn’t conducted an FEC oversight hearing in years. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which vets FEC nominees, has yet to even schedule a confirmation hearing for Trainor.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the committee’s ranking member, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Also non-responsive: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who as Senate minority leader typically offers Democratic FEC nomination recommendations to the president. Two government officials familiar with the FEC nomination process, however, say Schumer’s office has this year forwarded at least one FEC recommendation to Trump.
The FEC needs six commissioners willing to “faithfully” enforce the law, said Trevor Potter, a Republican FEC commissioner from 1991 to 1995 who now works as president for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan reform organization.
“With the 2018 midterms approaching in earnest, our elections are not protected,” Potter said.
The potential for foreign money in elections and enforcing disclosure rules are among critical issues squarely in the shorthanded FEC’s purview this year, Potter added.
Say the FEC, like it did in 2008, lost a quorum and couldn’t make key decisions at all. Would that be worse than the FEC in its current state?
“Yes, it would be worse,” said Weintraub, who was one of two commissioners still serving during the agency’s 2008 mothballing.
“Despite all our disagreements, we still get some things done even with the current cast of characters,” she added, noting the commission unanimously approved a draft audit report of the congressional campaign of Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and agreed to scrutinize the operations of “zombie” political committees that are no longer operational but in some cases still maintain large cash balances.
Petersen, who’s served on the FEC since 2008, says he’ll “just continue to carry out my responsibilities as long as I’m here,” a sentiment echoed by Hunter, whose chairmanship runs through 2018.
Walther, an independent who often leans left, says having two commission vacancies during an election year is “on his mind,” particularly since it means the commissioners must vote unanimously in order to take action on most matters before them.
“But we serve at the pleasure of the president,” Walther said, “and we’re here for now.”
Versions of this article were co-published by TIME, NBC News, Public Radio International and the Buffalo News.
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