If the claims online are correct, the Federal Election Commission is at risk of shutting down September 1st. 

Many articles claim that with the resignation of FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, the agency will effectively be shutting down.

Their reasoning? That the FEC requires a minimum of four commissioners to make high-level decisions. Petersen’s resignation would leave only three.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by The Center for Public Integrity:

“For now, the FEC can’t conduct meetings.

It can’t slap political scofflaws with fines.

It can’t make rules.

It can’t conduct audits and approve them.

It can’t vote on the outcome of investigations.”

With so much conversation about the integrity of elections over the last few years, the possibility of losing the regulatory body that oversees campaign finance seems alarming.

But are these claims correct? What’s really happening with the FEC?

THE QUESTION:

Is the Federal Election Commission shutting down September 1?

THE ANSWER:

The FEC won’t be shutting down fully, but will only be able to act on a limited set of duties that have been laid out in law.

The FEC does require at least four active Commissioners to make a number of decisions and to execute a large portion of their powers.

Petersen’s resignation will put them below that threshold and they will have to operate in a limited capacity until at least one more Commissioner can be appointed.

It’s worth noting that the other three FEC Commissioners, including Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, have all served past their initial appointment periods  and their seats may also have to be filled in the near future. 

WHAT WE FOUND:

The current conversations accurately center around the resignation of FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen. He announced  his resignation Monday August 26 and stated that he will officially be done with the role on August 31.

That means when September 1 comes around, the FEC will not have an acting Vice Chairman.

Additionally, Petersen’s resignation will leave the FEC with just three remaining commissioners. This is a problem because the law requires at least four votes for any official Commission action.

FEC Commissioners page
VERIFY

The FEC is supposed to have six commissioners at any one time and no more than three who represent the same political party. As you can see above, there were already two vacant seats before Petersen’s resignation.

Democrat Ann Ravel vacated her seat in April of 2017. Republican Lee Goodman left the FEC in February of 2018. Those seats are still vacant, so Republican Petersen’s departure leaves the FEC’s leadership to Democrat Ellen Weintraub, Republican Caroline Hunter and independent Stephen Walther.

Weintraub, who is the chairwoman of the FEC, acknowledged in a statement that the FEC’s powers will be limited until there is a fourth commissioner. The statement says the FEC is one commissioner shy of the four votes needed to “decide enforcement and audit matters, pass rules, issue advisory opinions, and litigate most matters.”

FEC rules clarify this further. Listing out the actions the FEC can take when the commission has fewer than four members

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN:

Put simply, when Petersen leaves office, the FEC will effectively be blocked from performing a number of key duties until a fourth commissioner is appointed.

However, the FEC will not be fully shut down or closed. They will still continue a number of other duties that don’t rely on the votes of four commissioners.

THE STATE OF THE FEC:

As reported on by the Center for Public Integrity, all of the commissioners currently serving on the FEC are doing so in a kind of “holdover status.” They’re serving well past their initial agreed upon terms.. This situation that only occurs if a nominee to replace them hasn’t been confirmed.

Since taking office, President Trump has nominated one person to the FEC.
In September 2017, he submitted Republican Trey Trainor to the Senate, but the legislative body failed to grant him a confirmation hearing. President Trump has since renominated him twice.\