Federal Election Commission

Federal Election Commission

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The Federal Election Commission (or FEC) is an independent regulatory agency that was founded in 1975 by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 to regulate the campaign finance
Campaign finance
Campaign finance refers to all funds that are raised and spent in order to promote candidates, parties or policies in some sort of electoral contest. In modern democracies such funds are not necessarily devoted to election campaigns. Issue campaigns in referendums, party activities and party...

 legislation in the United States. It was created in a provision of the 1975 amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act
Federal Election Campaign Act
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions...

. It describes its duties as "to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections."

Membership


The Commission is made up of six members, who are appointed by the President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 and confirmed by the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

. Each member serves a six-year term, and two seats are subject to appointment every two years. By law, no more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

, and at least four votes are required for any official Commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions and, some claim, to discourage rulings which would be harmful to both major parties.

The Chairmanship of the Commission rotates among the members each year, with no member serving as Chairman more than once during his or her term.

Official duties


Although the Commission's name implies broad authority over U.S. elections, in fact its role is limited to the administration of federal campaign finance laws. It enforces limitations and prohibitions on contributions and expenditures, investigates and prosecutes violations (investigations are typically initiated by complaints from other candidates, parties, "watchdog groups," and the public), audits a limited number of campaigns and organizations for compliance, and administers the presidential campaign fund, which provides public funds to candidates for president and nominating conventions.

The FEC also publishes reports filed by Senate, House of Representatives and Presidential campaigns that list how much each campaign has raised and spent, and a list of all donors over $200, along with each donor's home address, employer and job title. This database also goes back to 1980. Private organizations are legally prohibited from using these data to solicit new individual donors (and the FEC authorizes campaigns to include a limited number of "dummy" names as a measure to prevent this), but may use this information to solicit Political Action Committee
Political action committee
In the United States, a political action committee, or PAC, is the name commonly given to a private group, regardless of size, organized to elect political candidates or to advance the outcome of a political issue or legislation. Legally, what constitutes a "PAC" for purposes of regulation is a...

s. While these exhaustive campaign finance resources are available to everyone, they are rarely used by the public. The FEC also maintains an active program of public education, directed primarily to explaining the law to the candidates, campaigns and committees which it regulates.

Criticism


Critics of the FEC, including campaign finance reform
Campaign finance reform
Campaign finance reform is the common term for the political effort in the United States to change the involvement of money in politics, primarily in political campaigns....

 supporters such as Common Cause
Common Cause
Common Cause is a self-described nonpartisan, nonprofit lobby and advocacy organization. It was founded in 1970 by John W. Gardner, a Republican former cabinet secretary under Lyndon Johnson, as a "citizens' lobby" with a mission focused on making U.S. political institutions more open and...

 and Democracy 21
Democracy 21
Democracy 21 is a non-profit organization in the United States that works to remove the influence of private money from politics . It was founded in 1997 by longtime activist Fred Wertheimer, and is based in Washington, DC...

, have complained that the FEC's bipartisan structure renders the agency "toothless." Critics also claim that most FEC penalties for violating election law
Election law
Election law is a discipline falling at the juncture of constitutional law and political science. It researches "the politics of law and the law of politics"...

 come well after the actual election in which they were committed. Defenders of the agency point out, however, that the Commissioners rarely divide evenly along partisan lines, and that the response time problem may be endemic to the system. To complete steps necessary to resolve a complaint - including time for defendants to respond to the complaint, time to investigate and engage in legal analysis, and finally, where warranted, prosecution - necessarily takes far longer than the comparatively brief period of a political campaign.

Additionally, some critics claim that the commissioners tend to act as an arm of the "regulated community" of parties, interest groups, and politicians when issuing rulings and writing regulations.

At the same time, however, other critics, such as former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith
Bradley A. Smith
Bradley A. Smith is a professor at Capital University Law School, who was Commissioner, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Federal Election Commission between 2000 and 2005 and is best known for his writing and activities opposing campaign finance regulation.-Academic career and influence:A...

 and Stephen M. Hoersting, Executive Director of the Center for Competitive Politics, criticize the FEC for pursuing overly aggressive enforcement theories, and for infringing on First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

 rights of free speech.

Current

  • Cynthia L. Bauerly
    Cynthia L. Bauerly
    Cynthia L. Bauerly is a member of the United States Federal Election Commission. She was nominated by President George W. Bush on May 6, 2008. Her appointment received the unanimous consent of the United States Senate on June 24, 2008....

     - June 2008 - confirmed June 24, 2008 for a term expiring on April 30, 2011
  • Caroline C. Hunter - June 2008 - confirmed June 24, 2008 for a term expiring on April 30, 2013
  • Donald F. McGahn II
    Donald F. McGahn II
    Donald F. McGahn, II is an acting member of the United States Federal Election Commission.He was confirmed June 24, 2008 by the United States Senate and was sworn in shortly thereafter, but his term expired April 30, 2009, so he continues as a Commissioner until his replacement is nominated by the...

     - June 2008 - confirmed June 24, 2008 for a term expired on April 30, 2009
  • Matthew S. Petersen
    Matthew S. Petersen
    Matthew Spencer Petersen is a member of the United States Federal Election Commission .He was nominated to the FEC by President George W. Bush on June 12, 2008, and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on June 24, 2008...

     - June 2008 - confirmed June 24, 2008 for a term expiring on April 30, 2011
  • Steven T. Walther
    Steven T. Walther
    Steven T. Walther is Chairman of the United States Federal Election Commission, as of January 1, 2009.He was first sworn in as a Commissioner on January 10, 2006, as a recess appointee. Although his name was placed before the Senate for confirmation in June, 2007, his recess term expired on...

     - June 2008 - by recess appointment
    Recess appointment
    A recess appointment is the appointment, by the President of the United States, of a senior federal official while the U.S. Senate is in recess. The U.S. Constitution requires that the most senior federal officers must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming office, but while the Senate is in...

     January 2006 to December 2007, confirmed June 24, 2008 to remainder of a term expired on April 30, 2009
  • Ellen L. Weintraub
    Ellen L. Weintraub
    Ellen L. Weintraub is a member of the United States Federal Election Commission.She received a recess appointment to the Commission on December 6, 2002, and took office on December 9, 2002. She was renominated on January 9, 2003, and confirmed by unanimous consent of the United States Senate on...

     – December 2002 – by recess appointment on December 6, 2002, confirmed to full term 2003; Commissioner Weintraub's term expired in April 2007


For 2011, the Cynthia Bauerly is FEC Chair, and Caroline Hunter is FEC Vice Chair.

Former

  • Joan D. Aikens – April 1975 – September 1998 (reappointed May 1976, December 1981, August 1983 and October 1989).
  • Thomas B. Curtis
    Thomas B. Curtis
    Thomas Bradford Curtis was a U.S. Representative from Missouri.Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Curtis attended the public schools of Webster Groves, Missouri. He attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, earning an A.B. in 1932. He was admitted to the bar in 1934 and commenced the...

     – April 1975 – May 1976.
  • Thomas E. Harris – April 1975 – October 1986 (reappointed May 1976 and June 1979).
  • Neil O. Staebler – April 1975 – October 1978 (reappointed May 1976).
  • Vernon W. Thomson
    Vernon Wallace Thomson
    Vernon Wallace Thomson was the 34th Governor of Wisconsin from 1957 to 1959. Vernon Thomson was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin. He attended what is now Carroll University, in 1925, but graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in 1927, where he was a member of the Chi Phi...

     – April 1975 – June 1979; January 1981 – December 1981 (reappointed May 1976).
  • Robert O. Tiernan – April 1975 – December 1981 (reappointed May 1976).
  • William L. Springer
    William L. Springer
    William Lee Springer was a U.S. Representative from Illinois.Born in Sullivan, Indiana, Springer attended the public schools and Sullivan and Culver Military Academy at Culver, Indiana....

     – May 1976 – February 1979.
  • John Warren McGarry – October 1978 – August 1998 (reappointed July 1983 and October 1989).
  • Max L. Friedersdorf – March 1979 – December 1980.
  • Frank P. Reiche – July 1979 – August 1985.
  • Lee Ann Elliott – December 1981 – June 2000 (reappointed July 1987 and July 1994).
  • Danny L. McDonald – December 1981 – January 2006 (reappointed in July 1987, July 1994 and July 2000).
  • Thomas J. Josefiak
    Thomas J. Josefiak
    Thomas J. Josefiak is an American lawyer who was Chief Counsel of Republican National Committee and Chairman of the Federal Election Commission during the 1988 U.S. presidential election...

     – August 1985 – December 1991.
  • Scott E. Thomas – October 1986 – January 2006 (reappointed in November 1991 and July 1998).
  • Trevor Potter – November 1991 – October 1995.
  • Darryl R. Wold – July 1998 – April 2002.
  • Karl J. Sandstrom – July 1998 – December 2002.
  • David M. Mason - July 1998 - July 2008.
  • Bradley A. Smith
    Bradley A. Smith
    Bradley A. Smith is a professor at Capital University Law School, who was Commissioner, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Federal Election Commission between 2000 and 2005 and is best known for his writing and activities opposing campaign finance regulation.-Academic career and influence:A...

     – May 2000 – August 2005.
  • Michael E. Toner
    Michael E. Toner
    Michael E. Toner, American attorney and political appointee, specialized in election law, and currently employed by Wiley Rein LLP where he co-chairs the Election Law & Government Ethics Practice. He formerly served as the chairman of the Federal Election Commission , the regulatory body that...

     – March 2002 – March 2007. (by recess appointment on March 29, 2002, confirmed to full term 2003)
  • Robert D. Lenhard
    Robert D. Lenhard
    Robert D. Lenhard is a senior attorney in the of Mr. Lenhard formerly served as Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Government agency that administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act - the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. Lenhard...

     – January 2006 – December 31, 2007. (by recess appointment on January 4, 2006)
  • Hans A. von Spakovsky
    Hans A. von Spakovsky
    Hans A. von Spakovsky is an American attorney and a former member of the Federal Election Commission . He was nominated to the FEC by President George W...

     – January 2006 – December 31, 2007. (by recess appointment on January 4, 2006)

See also

  • Elections in the United States
    Elections in the United States
    The United States has a federal government, with elected officials at the federal , state and local levels. On a national level, the head of state, the President, is elected indirectly by the people, through an Electoral College. In modern times, the electors virtually always vote with the popular...

  • Campaign finance in the United States
    Campaign finance in the United States
    Campaign finance in the United States is the financing of electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels.At the federal level, the primary source of campaign funds is individuals; political action committees are a distant second. Contributions from both are limited, and direct...

  • Federal Election Campaign Act
    Federal Election Campaign Act
    The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions...

  • Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
    Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
    The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is a United States federal law that amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which regulates the financing of political campaigns. Its chief sponsors were Senators Russell Feingold and John McCain...

  • Buckley v. Valeo
    Buckley v. Valeo
    Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a federal law which set limits on campaign contributions, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law...

    , 424 U.S. 1 (1976)
  • Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
    Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
    Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, , was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from censoring political broadcasts in candidate elections when those broadcasts are funded by corporations or unions...

  • Federal Election Commission v. Akins
    Federal Election Commission v. Akins
    Federal Election Commission v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11 , was a United States Supreme Court case deciding that an individual could sue for a violation of a federal law pursuant to a statute enacted by the U.S...

    , authorizing "any party aggrieved by an order of the Commission" to file a suit
  • Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.
    Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.
    Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that issue ads may not be banned from the months preceding a primary or general election.-Background:...

    , holding that issue ads may not be banned before elections

External links