EXECUTIVE

Democratic resignation at FEC opens door for Trump to "drain the swamp"

Strategy Room: Sarah Badawi and Brian Morgenstern on how President Trump will handle open spot on commission

 

A Democrat who sits on the Federal Election Commission, says partisan gridlock and dysfunction led her to resign before her term expires. Ann Ravel’s early exit gives President Donald Trump the opportunity to “drain the swamp” and shake up the campaign finance system.

“People from all walks of life should be able to run for office without having to seek out wealthy donors, or be wealthy themselves, to win,” she wrote in a letter, published to Medium.

The California native promised the Trump administration that she would remain through the transition despite her desire to leave. 

“I had intended to leave earlier because I felt my effectiveness on the commission had been waning,” Ravel told Fox News.

“It may be difficult for the group who has been there for so long,” to reach consensus on FEC matters, she added.

Ravel urged Trump to reform the campaign finance system, which she maintains was tainted by so-called dark money.

"I respectfully urge you to prioritize campaign finance reform to remedy the significant problems identified during the last election cycle," the letter said.

Like her Democratic colleagues, she decried the “mistaken jurisprudence of Citizens United,” the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that found political spending is protected free speech.

Her dissatisfaction has grown in recent months, as has her public advocacy for reform and her criticism of the Republican commissioners on the panel. According to the Washington Free Beacon, Ravel even stopped attending commission meetings.

Ravel said she would depart on March 1, but her Twitter bio already has been changed to “former” commissioner.

She argued in the New York Times Monday that the FEC was “betraying” the American public -- a betrayal she blamed on a “controlling bloc of three Republican commissioners who are ideologically opposed to the F.E.C.’s purpose,” and fail to enforce the law.

Lee Goodman, a Republican FEC commissioner, said Ravel has been a "determined voice for regulation of First Amendment rights" who is likely to remain engaged "in the important debate that has animated our time on the commission together."

However, Goodman tells Fox News that what Democrats decry as a lack of enforcement and dysfunction is simply a consequence of deregulation of election law over the years. 

“Nearly half of what the FEC regulated and punished in the mid-2000s has been deregulated.  Deregulation explains lower civil penalties, not Commissioner Ravel's meme of 'dysfunction' within the Commission," he said.

The decision to leave early presents a unique opportunity for a president who campaigned on a pledged to “drain the swamp.”

The president’s hands, however, are somewhat limited in terms of his next appointment.

Federal law requires the commission be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so Trump wouldn’t be able to fill the vacancy with a registered Republican.

David Kolker, legal counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, said if he follows tradition, Trump will allow Democrats on Capitol Hill to suggest a replacement, whom he would rubber-stamp.

“The question is whether he would buck all history and go for the nuclear option by not choosing a Republican or a Democrat,” Kolker, who is a former FEC counsel, told Fox News.

The other lingering question is whether Trump will decide to completely shake up the system.

It is unclear the role White House Counsel Don McGahn, a former FEC commissioner, will play in filling the vacancies on the panel.

Because all five commissioners currently are in holdover status, Kolker says there is nothing in the law preventing Trump from appointing five new candidates to fill out their respective terms.

“If he simply replaces Ravel with another Democrat, things will stay pretty much the same,” said Kolker.

According to a 2016 Inspector General report, dissention among the commissioners and openly partisan warfare has contributed to low employee morale and hampered the FEC’s ability to fill top management positions.

“Employees fault the commissioners for much of the low morale at the agency,” said the report.

In addition, several key management positions, including general counsel, chief financial officer and chief information security officer, had been vacant for more than one year.