New Federal Election Chair Vows To Unleash 'Nuclear Option' To Force Violations Crackdown

Ellen Weintraub plans to block lawyers from defending the FEC against suits so courts can compel the agency to enforce the law.
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The new Democratic head of the Federal Election Commission is reportedly launching a “nuclear option” to thwart Republican stonewallers on the panel battling against enforcement of campaign regulations.

Ellen Weintraub told Mother Jones magazine that she will no longer vote to defend the agency against lawsuits accusing the agency of not enforcing regulations. Instead, she’s going to root for courts to order the FEC to enforce the law.

Weintraub, who has served on the panel since 2002 and became chair last month, complained that the FEC has been paralyzed for years. That has given election law violators a free ride, and led to less transparency and more dark money flooding into campaigns.

There are supposed to be six commissioners on the panel, but there are only four: Two Republicans, Weintraub and an independent. Many votes to take action cracking down on violations are deadlocked, with GOP members complaining about over-regulation.

Each commissioner, however, has veto power. Weintraub plans to use her veto to block any support to defend the commission against lawsuits in the hope that courts will then have an open path to order the FEC to enforce the law.

“I’m not going to authorize the use of agency resources to defend” against litigation, she told Mother Jones.

A number of lawsuits against the FEC have addressed the issue of hidden sources of dark money that pours into campaigns.

It’s uncertain what will happen if FEC lawyers fail to launch a defense against suits seeking enforcement, including the disclosure of dark money sources. The Justice Department or an organization named as an election law violator in a lawsuit might take over defending the FEC.

But if the FEC stops defending itself, it “should be more frequent that the court finds that the law has been violated, which will make it harder for super PACs and megadonors ... to evade campaign finance law,” Adav Noti, a senior director at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center and a former FEC lawyer, told Mother Jones.

In a tweet Thursday linking and referring to the story, Weintraub conceded she might not be able to break the FEC’s enforcement gridlock, but she vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in an effort to “fully enforce the law.”