White House responds to petition on replacing FEC commissioners

The White House on Friday responded to a petition from watchdog groups calling for the replacement of five Federal Election Commission (FEC) commissioners before the 2012 election, but declined to comment on either a timeline or possible candidates.

Ten campaign finance reform groups created a "We the People" petition calling on the Obama administration to replace five out of six commissioners. The five commissioners’ terms have expired and the commission’s deadlock is holding back further clarifications on significant issues coming out of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling, the advocates said.

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While the White House emphasized the president’s similar distaste for the Citizens United decision and his support for reform, the letter stated personnel choices would not be disclosed publicly prior to final decisions.

“While the Administration doesn't comment publicly about the President's personnel decisions before he makes them, the Obama Administration is committed to nominating highly qualified individuals to lead the FEC,” Special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory policy Tonya Robinson said.

“The agency, and the system of open and fair elections that the FEC is charged with protecting, deserve no less.”

The White House also pointed to Congress as the vehicle needed to move campaign finance reform forward. Robinson emphasized the need for additional laws to be created since “critical elements of our campaign finance laws” were “struck down” by Citizens United.

President Obama has supported the Disclose Act, a 2010 bill presented in different versions since Citizens United that sought to add disclosure requirements and close foreign influence loopholes. 

There are new versions of the Disclose Act in the House and Senate called Disclose 2.0, but even these bare-bones versions are not expected to pass the chambers due to strong opposition from Republicans. 

The advocates have awaited the administration’s response since the petition scored more than 25,000 signatures in February, the minimum number of signatures for a required White House response through the "We the People" platform. 

“While an effective FEC should be a no-brainer for someone who has advocated for campaign finance reform, the president has also now embraced his own super PAC. His response to this petition will help clarify which side he is on,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington executive director Melanie Sloan said in February.

Watchdog groups are not the only ones calling for replacing the expired-limit FEC commissioners. More than 30 Democrats called on the president to recess-appoint the commissioners over Easter recess this year.

“Doing so [appointing new commissioners] will breathe life into this important agency and send a clear signal to those seeking to exploit an uncertain campaign landscape that the cop is back on the beat and that federal election laws will be fully enforced,” Chief deputy whip Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said in a separate letter to the president.

Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, Public Citizen, Americans for Campaign Reform, League of Women Voters of the U.S., Common Cause, Public Campaign, United Republic and U.S. PIRG also organized the petition.