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From a Nonfunctional Agency to a Dysfunctional Campaign Finance Cop

Appointment of Trey Trainor to the Federal Election Commission Is Not Better Than Nothing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate should reject the appointment of Austin lawyer James “Trey” Trainor to a Republican seat on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Public Citizen said today.

As foreign meddling and dark money continues to taint our elections, the six-member commission – three appointed by Democrats and three by Republicans – lost its quorum last year and is unable to make any formal decisions or take enforcement actions regarding campaign finance laws. President Donald Trump and the Senate have not considered appointing any new commissioners – until now, with the consideration of one Republican nominee, Trainor.

“The appointment of Trainor would merely move the FEC from nonfunctional to dysfunctional,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. “The FEC would regain a quorum, but Trainor doesn’t believe in enforcing the campaign finance laws, so this would not be any real improvement.”

Public Citizen has been charting the demise of the FEC’s ability to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws over the years. Actions by the FEC need four or more votes, and following an earlier lost quorum of the agency in 2008, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to have figured he could appoint three Republican members who do not believe in the campaign finance laws and effectively shut down enforcement, quorum or no quorum.

Deadlocked votes on enforcement matters immediately spiked ten-fold and have risen ever since. In 2019, according to Public Citizen’s latest assessment, the FEC deadlocked on more than a third of all enforcement actions. The moribund agency has taken its toll on staff morale, with dozens quitting their jobs.

“Trainor fits perfectly into the McConnell mold. He would be an elections cop who doesn’t believe in campaign finance or other election laws,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “As an attorney in Texas, Trainor called for the abolition of the state’s campaign finance agency and served as legal counsel for one of the largest dark money groups in Texas. Simply put, the appointment of Trey Trainor is not better than nothing.”

Public Citizen calls upon both Senate Republicans and Democrats to recognize the critical need to have a fair and impartial FEC capable of enforcing the campaign finance laws and ensuring full transparency of money in politics, and to appoint new commissioners accordingly.

Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC deadlock votes is available here.