The FEC is about to experience a major shakeup

Things just got interesting at the Federal Election Commission, and by “interesting” I mean as in, may you live to see interesting times. Pretty much out of nowhere, one of the Democrats on the commission has just announced that she will be resigning and turning in her letter to President Trump by the end of the week. Apparently she feels that the commission is so hopelessly deadlocked that she’s not doing any good there anyway. (New York Times)

A Democrat on the Federal Election Commission is quitting her term early because of the gridlock that has gripped the panel, offering President Trump an unexpected chance to shape political spending rules.

The commissioner, Ann M. Ravel, said during an interview that she would send Mr. Trump her letter of resignation this week. She pointed to a series of deadlocked votes between the panel’s three Democrats and three Republicans that she said left her little hope the group would ever be able to rein in campaign finance abuses.

“The ability of the commission to perform its role has deteriorated significantly,” said Ms. Ravel, who has sparred bitterly with the Republican election commissioners during her three years on the panel. She added, “I think I can be more effective on the outside.”

This throws a serious wrench into the works, particularly for the Democrats. If you look at the structure and mission of the commission you will find that is composed of six members who are appointed by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate. By law there cannot be more than three members from the same political party. Members serve six-year terms staggered in such a way that there are usually only two up for replacement every couple of years.

There has been a standing tradition that when a replacement is required for one of the seats held by the party currently out of power, the President would defer to the other party’s leadership to select the new member. Given his temperament and track record thus far, how likely do you suppose President Trump will be to follow this convention? He can’t nominate a Republican but there would be nothing stopping him from putting forward one of the most conservative Democrats to be found. For that matter, one might argue that he could nominate a registered independent and still not violate the three-person rule.

Then comes the other half of the formula. If he doesn’t let the Democrats pick their own candidate he will still have to force his own nominee through what will no doubt be an explosive Senate confirmation process. With the filibuster being off the table he can probably do it if he maintains solid support from the GOP, but it’s going to be one more bruising battle leaving Chuck Schumer and his friends even angrier than ever. It takes four votes to get anything done on the FEC which is why so little has been accomplished in the current era of continued gridlock, but a conservative member joining in with the three current Republicans could set the stage for considerable change.

We knew there were going to be some serious fights coming in terms of confirming not only a Supreme Court nominee but the remaining cabinet picks. This one however, I don’t think anybody saw coming so quickly.