The Federal Election Commission is likely to put off the highly charged question about how much latitude the agency’s staff attorneys should have to share information with the Department of Justice until two new nominees to the agency are confirmed by the Senate.
In a letter Thursday to Republican leaders of the House Administration Committee, FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub indicated that she was inclined to delay the matter until the Senate confirmed Ann Ravel and Lee Goodman, who were recently nominated to the FEC by President Obama.
“In my view, it would be highly inappropriate for the Commission to take precipitous action on a matter of this importance without giving our new colleagues the opportunity to participate,” wrote Weintraub, who added that she was also concerned that the six-member panel is currently short one Democratic commissioner.
The policy is part of a formal enforcement manual the FEC has been working to draft, a document that the House Administration Committee has called on the agency to adopt since November 2011.
The process has triggered an intense power struggle between the GOP commissioners and the agency’s staff attorneys. The FEC general counsel, Anthony Herman, stepped down this month after the Republican commissioners proposed revising the staff’s draft manual to limit the ability of staff attorneys from sharing information with federal prosecutors without commission approval.
Their proposal drew sharp criticism from campaign finance reform advocates and Senate Democrats. In a letter to the FEC this month, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Charles Schumer and five other Democratic senators said the policy “would hinder enforcement and would be inconsistent with practices across the federal government.” They urged the FEC not to vote on the matter until the new nominees were confirmed.
That would mean the vote would come after the departure of Republican commissioner Donald F. McGahn II, who has been the most vocal advocate of limiting the ability of the Office of General Counsel to independently share information with DOJ.
On Thursday, McGahn released a 21-page memo accusing the staff of operating in secrecy and rejecting the idea that he was seeking to impede FEC cooperation with the Department of Justice.
During Thursday’s FEC meeting, he pointedly alluded to the debate as the panel discussed a motion to allow gay spouses to contribute in the same manner as married straight couples.
“So it’s okay that I vote on this?” McGahn asked. “I don’t know, only five commissioners. A lot of people say that’s a problem.”