The Federal Election Commission will reach an ignominious milestone at midnight Tuesday: every single one of its members’ terms will have expired. But thanks to a quirk in election law — and Washington gridlock — they continue to serve and deadlock on nearly every major issue.
Former Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger once quipped that, ”This is probably the only agency in Washington that has done from the beginning exactly what it was intended to do, which was to do nothing.” The Commission, by design, includes six members — no more than three from each major political party. While appointees are limited to a single, staggered six-year term, they are permitted to stay on indefinitely until they are replaced. No commissioner has been confirmed since the George W. Bush administration and one seat is currently vacant. Five of the six terms had expired by the end of April 2011 — though four of those five are still serving two years later (a fifth stayed on through February 1 of this year).
President Obama has, to date, nominated just one person to the commission. Though his nominee, SEIU Associate General Counsel John J. Sullivan, received unanimous committee support, his nomination was held up by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in a failed attempt to force more nominees. After a year of waiting, Sullivan withdrew his name from the process.
Last year, a “We the People” White House petition received more than 25,000 signatures demanding that the President nominate new commissioners to replace the anti-enforcement Republican incumbents before the November elections. The White House responded:
While the Administration doesn’t comment publicly about the President’s personnel decisions before he makes them, the Obama Administration is committed to nominating highly qualified individuals to lead the FEC. The agency, and the system of open and fair elections that the FEC is charged with protecting, deserve no less.