The new commissioners are Shana M. Broussard, current FEC attorney and the first Black commissioner; Sean J. Cooksey, general counsel for GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and the youngest person to become a commissioner; and Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, which opposes campaign finance restrictions. Broussard is a Democrat, and Cooksey and Dickerson are Republicans.
With their confirmations, the commission is again equally divided ideologically, which could resume the FEC’s practice of often deadlocking on alleged election violations. Federal law requires more than one party to be represented on the FEC.
“While a quorum allows the FEC to hold hearings, make new rules, issue advisory opinions, conduct investigations, or approve enforcement actions, a full slate of commissioners means that the FEC is not hobbled and is able to continue its work when a single commissioner departs the agency,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, during last month’s committee hearing advancing the three nominees to the full Senate vote.
During that hearing, the Republican nominees said that they do not have evidence of widespread election fraud and that they believed President-elect Joe Biden to be the projected winner of the presidential contest, a contrast to the views of the panel’s current Republican chairman, James E. “Trey” Trainor III, who expressed support for unsubstantiated claims of rampant voter fraud.
While the FEC does not have jurisdiction over election administration, the public comments made by commissioners frequently come under scrutiny because of the panel’s role in upholding the integrity of election laws.
When asked whether they believed there was widespread election fraud in the 2020 elections, Cooksey said he did not have any personal knowledge of widespread voter fraud but was aware of some legal challenges. Dickerson agreed with Cooksey and added: “The FEC has no role whatsoever in election administration or judging electoral outcomes. I think it’s important for the FEC to remain within the four corners that Congress set for it.”
The final votes for the nominees were 49 to 47 for Dickerson, 92 to 4 for Broussard and 50 to 46 for Cooksey.
Dickerson is a campaign finance attorney with a focus on First Amendment litigation and the former assistant general counsel to the Republican Governors Association. He is a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Army Reserve. His term ends April 30, 2025.
Broussard has been an attorney at the FEC for the past 12 years and currently works with Commissioner Steven T. Walther, an independent who often votes with Democrats on the panel. Her term expires April 30, 2023.
“This is a landmark day since Shana Broussard will be the first person of color to serve on the Federal Elections Commission board in its 45-year history. Shana Broussard is an immensely qualified and well-respected attorney who has worked at the FEC for more than a decade,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement. “We must restore trust in the FEC, and this confirmation of Ms. Broussard will go a long way towards doing that.”
Before his role as legal counsel for Hawley, Cooksey was deputy chief counsel for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Cooksey’s term expires April 30, 2021.
“Sean has done absolutely outstanding work,” Hawley said before the Senate vote Wednesday. “While I am sorry to see Sean go on a personal level, I am absolutely delighted for the country.”
Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, which advocates for greater restrictions on campaign finance, welcomed the Senate restoring its voting quorum but called on the incoming Biden administration to overhaul the FEC for greater enforcement of campaign finance laws.
“For years, the FEC was plagued by dysfunction because a bloc of commissioners took a hands-off approach to enforcing the laws we have on the books — laws that are designed to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption,” McGehee said in a statement. “Both Congress and the incoming Biden Administration must take reforming the FEC seriously to ensure that the American people have a dedicated campaign finance cop on the beat.”
Two current commissioners, Walther and Democrat Ellen Weintraub, are serving on the panel long after their terms expired in 2009 and 2007, respectively. Senate Republican leaders, including Blunt, have said they want to appoint a clean slate of six new commissioners to replace all the members in holdover status. It is unclear when the next nominations will be made.
The FEC lost its voting quorum in July, when long-serving Republican commissioner Caroline Hunter resigned from the panel. That marked the third time in the FEC’s 45-year history, and the second time in 2020 alone, that the panel lost its voting quorum, according to a tally by Issue One.
Hunter resigned one month after the FEC regained its voting quorum with the swearing-in of Republican commissioner and chairman Trainor. His confirmation had restored the panel’s quorum after a nine-month break in official business.
The last time the FEC had a full six-member panel was February 2017.