That was until this Friday, after what FEC Chair Ellen L. Weintraub said was a Republican commissioner’s effort to block a draft memo on prohibited foreign national electoral activity from being included in the digest, which led to the digest being withheld from the public.
But Weintraub found a way to get the information out.
The Democratic chairwoman published the digest in piecemeal, with 57 tweets in all, including the foreign national prohibitions memo — all while calling out the commissioner who she said sought to block it from being widely publicized online.
“GOP FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter took the altogether unprecedented step of objecting to its being added to the Digest and blocked publication of the whole,” Weintraub said, referring to the memo.
“I always thought these anti-regulatory people liked the First Amendment well enough,” Weintraub said in a follow-up tweet. “I guess they think it’s just for corporations. I’m not fond of anyone trying to suppress my speech.”
Hunter challenged that assertion days later. She said she asked Weintraub for time to evaluate the document before it was included in the digest. “Unfortunately, she refused to publish the digest without her document,” Hunter told The Washington Post on Tuesday.
“I have requested it to be released today in the digest with her document,” she said, including her own statement that says putting forth such documents was futile because they don’t currently have enough commissioners to meet.
“Under these circumstances, a discussion in an open meeting without a quorum would be a useless and misleading exercise. I cannot participate in my colleague’s efforts to grandstand,” she said in separate statement.
It was later posted to the digest.
The digest itself was fairly routine and mostly included updates on civil penalties handed down for campaign law violations.
But Weintraub’s defiance is notable for its timing, as foreign involvement in the U.S. political system has turned the news cycle into a very focused dumpster fire.
An intelligence community whistleblower said President Trump may have improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, prompting lawmakers to consider impeachment.
A critical mass of Washington officials have said Russia interfered in the 2016 election and have emphasized the integrity of the 2020 elections as a key focus across the government. Top intelligence and technology officials briefed Congress on preparations this summer, and Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, told lawmakers Thursday that election security is his agency’s “most fundamental priority.”
There is one notable dissenter on the seriousness of a foreign threat to elections: Trump. The Washington Post reported Friday that Trump told Russian officials in 2017 that he was unconcerned over their 2016 interference because, he said, the United States conducts similar disruption campaigns.
Election integrity is a key focus for the FEC, and Weintraub has often raised the issue from her perch. Her memo focuses on financial contributions from foreign nationals for all U.S. elections, for which there are broad restrictions that she summarized in a June op-ed in The Post.
“I am gravely concerned about ongoing efforts by geopolitical adversaries to undermine our democracy,” Weintraub wrote. “It is critically important that everyone involved in U.S. politics understands the law, recognizes the threat, and confronts and contains it.”
Reached Saturday, Weintraub told The Washington Post: “It’s a straightforward summary of how the FEC has interpreted the foreign national ban over the years. I thought it would be helpful to have that on the public record.”
Hunter said she takes foreign interference in elections seriously, and pointed to her voting record in her statement. But, she added, nuances of foreign interference in everyday life — and in possibly innocuous situations — make the matter complicated when restrictions are broadened, necessitating a more careful look at such regulations.
“Particularly with an issue as sensitive and troubling as foreign interference in American elections, however, it is crucial that Commissioners act prudently and judiciously,” she said.
Weintraub has irked Republican lawmakers by challenging Trump. Last month, she asked the president to substantiate claims of voter fraud in New Hampshire that he made during a rally in Manchester. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), a member of the House Administration Committee, accused her of partisanship.
FEC commissioners are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Weintraub has chaired the commission three times since her appointment by President George W. Bush in 2002.
Weintraub has sounded the alarm over the commissioners’ inability to conduct their official business. The commission needs four of six members to meet and take action.
But there are only three at the moment — Weintraub, Hunter and Steven T. Walther, an independent. To encourage nonpartisanship, no more than three commissioners can represent the same political party at a given time.
Weintraub has laid out what practical consequence that has for voters and the public.
“If people are not doing what they should do — are not voluntarily complying with the law, and there are complaints filed, we will not be able to process them,” she told NPR in August.
This story has been updated.