More troubling to some FEC commissioners has been the staff’s unsanctioned and growing ties to the Obama Justice Department. In September 2011, Tony Herman was named FEC general counsel. Mr. Herman in early 2012 brought in Dan Petalas, a Justice prosecutor, as head of the agency’s enforcement section. FECA is clear that a bipartisan majority of commissioners must vote to report unlawful conduct to law enforcement. Yet FEC staff have increasingly been sending agency content to Justice without informing the commission.
For instance, when a complaint is filed with the FEC against a political actor, the general counsel is required to write a report for the commissioners on whether there is a “reason to believe” the actor committed a violation. This report is confidential and never made public until a case is closed. Yet FEC staffers have sent these reports to Justice, in one case before the report was considered by the commissioners.
In a June memo, Mr. Herman defended staff supremacy with the astonishing argument that big decisions are best made by “non-partisan, career leadership.” (No joke.) That way, the commission is shielded from “claims that it is deciding whether to assist DOJ criminal prosecutions” on the basis of “political considerations.” Better, apparently, to keep the public completely in the dark.