The long-gridlocked Federal Elections Commission will have a vacancy starting March 1. What Trump does next will impact the future of U.S. elections.
Federal Elections Commissioner Ann Ravel abruptly announced her resignation from her post this weekend, citing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and “unlimited, often dark, money” polluting our politics as an impetus for her resignation. Ravel posted her resignation letter on Medium, and her last day in office will be March 1.
In an interview with the New York Times, Ravel said, “[t]he ability of the commission to perform its role has deteriorated significantly,” also adding, “I think I can be more effective on the outside.”
Why does any of this matter? By law, President Trump must name a replacement for Ravel to the panel, which must consist of no more than three Republicans and three Democrats. Tradition dictates that Trump allow Senate Democrats to choose Ravel’s replacement, but he doesn’t have to extend that courtesy.
Traditionally, Trump would allow Senate Democrats to choose the next commissioner, but he could ignore that courtesy and rely on the Republican majority in the chamber to confirm an ideological fit — as long as that person isn’t a registered Republican. And because the five remaining commissioners are currently serving beyond their appointed terms, which the law permits, Trump could sweep out the entire commission, provided he didn’t appoint more than three Republicans.
Trump could, in theory, name a like-minded Democrat to the panel and begin dismantling campaign finance laws with which he disagrees. Trump’s hiring of former FEC commissioner Donald McGahn to serve as White House counsel adds fuel to the fire that he will do just that:
[University of California, Irvine election law scholar Richard] Hasen said he would not be surprised if Mr. Trump made the pick himself, especially because his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, was an election commissioner himself and has pushed fiercely for deregulating campaign finance.
“It would be transformative,” Mr. Hasen said, if the president nominated someone more aligned with the panel’s Republican members to push for even further deregulation.
That move could risk jeopardizing Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” of special interest money in Washington, D.C., however. The White House has not yet made any public statements about the vacancy.
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