President to nominate critic of 'dark money' to campaign agency

President Obama on Friday said he plans to nominate a fierce critic of undisclosed "dark" money in politics to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The president will nominate Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, to be a commissioner at the watchdog agency.

Ravel has targeted secret political donations to campaign committees active in California, and her nomination earned praise from advocates of campaign finance reform.

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Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, called Ravel an "excellent choice."

“From what we know, Ann Ravel, head of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, has been an outstanding leader in the area of campaign finance oversight and enforcement," Wertheimer said.

The president also plans to nominate Lee Goodman to the FEC.

Goodman is a partner with LeClairRyan, where he advises clients on state and federal election laws. He also is the general counsel for the Republican Party of Virginia and has been legal counsel and policy adviser to former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R).

“These men and women have demonstrated knowledge and dedication throughout their careers. I am grateful they have chosen to take on these important roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come,” Obama said in a statement announcing the nominations.

The FEC has been subject to intense scrutiny from watchdog groups amid an explosion in outside spending on elections.

Undisclosed contributions to politically active nonprofit groups have attracted criticism since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds to advocate for or against candidates. For the 2012 campaign, groups that didn’t disclose their donors spent more than $300 million on politicking, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The FEC has shied away from strong enforcement actions during the spending boom, frustrating watchdog groups that have repeatedly pushed Obama to nominate new commissioners to the agency.

Before Friday, Obama had nominated only one individual to the election commission — John Sullivan, an associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union, in 2009. Sullivan later withdrew from consideration.

The FEC has been called a broken agency by other watchdog groups. Of the agency's six seats, there is one vacancy since Cynthia Bauerly resigned in February. The terms for the remaining five commissioners have all expired.

Both Ravel and Goodman will have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Watchdog groups are enthusiastic about the nomination of Ravel, whose state commission filed a lawsuit against Americans for Responsible Leadership over an anonymous, $11 million donation to a California campaign committee. That challenge helped uncover that the political contribution was actually from another group, Americans for Job Security, that passed it through another intermediary, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the commission.

Ravel has led the California commission since March 2011. Before that, she worked at the Civil Division in Obama’s Justice Department as a deputy assistant attorney general for torts and consumer litigation.