is chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an independent regulatory agency that administers and enforces the law which governs the financing of federal elections. Hunter was appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2008. She previously served as the vice-chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and as deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Hunter spoke with Tom Fox, who writes the Washington Post’s
Federal Coach blog
and is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.
Could you walk us through the role of the Federal Election Commission?
The FEC offers public disclosure of certain campaign finance activity. A campaign typically files with us monthly, and they file everything: receipts, disbursements, and every dime they’ve raised or spent. This information is almost immediately posted on our Web site for the public to see. There are also rules for how campaigns and some other groups raise and spend money. The FEC enforces and encourages voluntary compliance with those rules.
These federal campaign laws can be burdensome, complex and difficult to explain. To that end, we have seminars, webinars and information posted on our Web site, and people available to answer questions the public may have about complying with the law. We also have Reports Analysis Division analysts, who review campaign-finance reports and work directly with political campaigns to answer their questions and help them comply.
What has been on the docket for the FEC during this election season?
We’ve concentrated our efforts to ensure that campaign-finance disclosure reports are posted on our Web site in a timely fashion. There also has been an increase in requests for advisory opinions, which are commission responses to questions regarding the application of federal campaign finance laws. Several requests were related to the use of text messaging for political contributions, which the FEC approved earlier this year.
How does the political composition of the commission pose challenges for formulating policy?
The commission has six members, and no more than three can be members of the same political party. It takes four concurring votes to approve any action. That’s very different than most federal entities in town, and it’s a lot more difficult to do things. We’ve had a relatively small number of cases that have resulted in a three-three split. Usually you’ll see a split when the law is vague, given that issues pertaining to the First Amendment are in play. We have made a lot of procedural reforms to the agency that not only affects the public, but also the internal operations of the commission. We tried to change processes to make the agency more transparent, and these issues were debated in public and voted on in public. I think the agency is improved a lot by these reforms.
As chair, what’s your role in navigating contentious issues?