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Tag: ellen weintraub

Trump’s FEC Appointees Let Him Escape Probe Of Porn Star Payoffs

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The Federal Election Commission's Republican members, two Donald Trump appointees, blocked a staff-recommended examination of Trump's alleged campaign finance violations on Thursday.

An investigation was recommended after Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen admitted as part of a 2018 plea agreement to making the illegal contributions in the form of hush money to women, including $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had extramarital affairs.

The commission voted 2-2 on whether to examine whether Trump violated campaign finance law by, as the FEC's general counsel wrote, "knowingly accepting excessive contributions from Michael D. Cohen," his former fixer.

The resulting deadlock means an investigation will not proceed, as it needed four votes out of six to move forward. One Trump-appointed Republican commissioner, Vice Chair Allen Dickerson, recused himself from the matter. Another, independent Steve Walther, missed the vote but later voted against a motion to dismiss the allegations.

By design, the Federal Election Commission can have no more than three Republican and three Democratic members at a time — meaning enforcement matters are frequently blocked by deadlocks. Former Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger observed in 2002 that the Commission is "probably the only agency in Washington that has done from the beginning exactly what it was intended to do, which was to do nothing."

For much of the Trump administration, the commission lacked a quorum to take any action at all. In his final year in office, Senate Republicans finally filled vacant seats with Trump four appointees (three Republicans and one Democrat) — three of them confirmed in the lame-duck session after Joe Biden had defeated Trump.

James Trainor, one of the two Republicans who blocked action against Trump, was not only a Trump appointee but also helped to get him elected. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, he worked to stop "Never Trump" Republicans from undermining Trump's platform and coronation. He later worked in Trump's administration, at the Department of Defense.

During his Senate confirmation hearings last year, Democrats urged Trainor to recuse himself from matters related to the Trump campaign. He explicitly refused to do so.

The other Republican commissioner who joined Trainor on Thursday is Sean Cooksey. Prior to his appointment, he worked as deputy chief counsel to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and as the top Judiciary Committee aide to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

The commission's Democrats, Ellen Weintraub and Chair Shana Broussard denounced their colleagues'

move.

"To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality," they wrote. "But putting that aside, Cohen testified under oath that the made the payment for the principal purpose on influencing the election."

Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan suggested in a statement on Thursday that a double standard is evident in campaign finance enforcement.

"Crystal Mason, a Black woman, was sentenced to five years in prison for inadvertently violating an election law in 2016. She thought she was allowed to vote and filled out a provisional ballot that was never counted," he wrote. "

Donald Trump blatantly and intentionally violated federal campaign finance laws on his way to winning the 2016 presidential election," but the GOP Commissioners "blocked investigation and enforcement of Trump's violations," he added.

Ryan also noted that the Department of Justice has five months, under the statute of limitations, to bring its own charges against Trump over his apparent crimes — and that the agency is badly in need of restructuring.

The "For the People Act", passed by the House, would eliminate the deadlocked design of the Federal Election Commission. It is currently pending in the Senate, where Republicans have vowed to block it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

FEC Chief Tells McConnell To Fund Election Now Or Court Disaster

Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub called on Donald Trump and Congress to provide adequate funding for the 2020 election in a sharply worded public statement released on Thursday.

"Mr. President, Members of Congress, should you fail to provide the funds America needs for its elections, you will be derelict in your duty to your country," Weintraub wrote. A lack of federal funding "would be a devastating failure to protect our democracy in a moment of historic need."

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GOP Resignation Derails Federal Election Commission

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Federal Election Commission has continued to shrink in size: Republican Commissioner Matthew S. Peterson has announced his resignation, which will bring the FEC down to only three members.

With only three commissioners, the FEC, which enforces election law, won’t be able to form a quorum — the minimum number of members — required to take substantial actions. As the New York Times reported, this includes: “holding board meetings, starting audits, making new rules and levying fines for campaign finance violations.”

As the 2020 presidential election is only 15 months away, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow finds Peterson’s departure to be a “very alarming” development — and Maddow voiced her concerns when FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub appeared on her show on Monday night.

Maddow asked Weintraub, a Democrat, if she could assure her that Peterson’s departure is “not as bad as it seems.”

“Well, it’s not great,” the chair responded. “It’s definitely not great, Rachel. But I want to assure the American people that the agency is not closing its doors. We have a dedicated staff who will continue to show up for work every day, and we will make sure that we fulfill our core mission of disclosure — of following the money and making sure the American people can follow the money, and finding out who is supporting which candidates, and how they’re spending their money.”

Weintraub quickly added, however, that lacking a quorum poses some major problems for the FEC.

“It is definitely not good for us not to have a quorum because we can continue to do investigations that have already been authorized, but we can’t authorize any new investigations,” Weintraub told Maddow. “We can’t issue any rules. We can’t issue any advisory opinions.”

Weintraub added, “We’ve been limping along with four members for a while now…. It’s hard to maintain a quorum when you’ve only got the bare four.”

The FEC chair told Maddow that it would be quite possible for new FEC commissioners to be nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate “in fairly short order if they decide to do so.” But when the FEC “ran out of a quorum” in 2008, Weintraub noted, it “took months before they decided to fill the empty seats and bring us back to full strength.”

“I am sincerely hoping we are not going to run into that situation again,” Weintraub told Maddow.