January 16, 2019

Ranking Member Klobuchar Seeks Answers about Impact of Shutdown on Transparency and Accountability for Political Fundraising

Government shutdown prevents FEC from enforcing campaign finance laws 

WASHINGTON- Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member on the Senate Rules Committee with oversight over federal elections, led all of the Democrats on the Committee in seeking answers from the Federal Election Commission regarding the government shutdown’s effects on their agency and its ability to protect our democracy. According to the Commission’s shutdown plan, 90 percent of the agency’s 300 employees are currently furloughed. The lapse in government funding means that enforcement of campaign finance laws has stopped and the FEC cannot investigate possible campaign finance violations. The shutdown also means that its computer network is more vulnerable to security breaches, like the one that occurred at the FEC during the 2013 shutdown.

“The lapse in government funding means that enforcement of the campaign finance laws that hold politicians and political committees accountable has stopped,” the senators wrote.  “The lack of law enforcement and transparency brought on by the government shutdown has severe implications for the health and security of our democracy.”

In addition to Klobuchar, the letter is signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Angus King (I-ME), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Chairwoman Weintraub:

We write to express concern about the government shutdown’s effect on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), its employees, and the Commission’s ability to enforce campaign finance law and ensure transparency in our democratic process. According to the Commission’s shutdown plan, 90 percent of the agency’s 300 employees are currently furloughed. The shutdown has already prevented the FEC from conducting its first scheduled meeting of 2019, where it was expected to vote on campaign finance enforcement cases, regulations, and questions regarding ongoing litigation.

The lapse in government funding means that enforcement of the campaign finance laws that hold politicians and political committees accountable has stopped. Further, the FEC cannot investigate complaints regarding possible campaign finance violations. Year-end reports regarding campaign activity in 2018 are due at the end of the month, but due to the shutdown the Commission cannot provide basic assistance to those seeking to file reports and financial disclosures.

The impact of the shutdown extends beyond proper enforcement of the law. During the 2013 government shutdown, Chinese hackers managed to break into the FEC’s computer network because not a single employee was present for the prevention of such a threat. The FEC has been maintaining a “skeleton staff” of employees, presumably leaving the Commission in a better position than in the past. However, it remains unclear the precise extent to which the present shutdown leaves the FEC prone to similar cybersecurity breaches.

The lack of law enforcement and transparency brought on by the government shutdown has severe implications for the health and security of our democracy. To better understand how a prolonged government shutdown will further impact our democracy, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:

  1. How has the government shutdown impacted the FEC’s ability to exercise its core functions?
  2. What steps are being taken to ensure that there is sufficient cybersecurity protections to prevent another attack on the FEC’s network?
  3. The Commission has a number of ongoing investigations of potential violations of campaign finance laws. Some of these laws have statutes of limitation. How will the shutdown impact these cases and are there potential violations of the law that are at risk of going unaddressed due to a statute of limitation passing during the shutdown? 
  4. How will the Commission’s current inability to fully enforce campaign finance law affect its capacity to fulfill that role when the government reopens? Will the shutdown put the Commission substantially behind in its work on overseeing the 2020 election process?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious matter.

Sincerely,

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