Other Voices: Leaving U.S. election watchdog shorthanded is irresponsible

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, are charged with funneling $325,000 in foreign money into a super-PAC supporting President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Their indictment should serve as a warning about the threat of foreign manipulation of U.S. elections. It also proves the need for a functioning Federal Election Commission.

After a resignation in August, the six-seat commission is down to only three members. The commission needs four for a quorum, and requires a quorum to authorize investigations by its office of general counsel. That means FEC lawyers can work on cases previously authorized but they can’t investigate new ones until the president nominates, and the Senate confirms, at least one new commissioner.

Trump has nominated Texas lawyer James “Trey” Trainor III — but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has fast-tracked dozens of federal court nominees, has dragged his feet on this one, failing to schedule a hearing or a vote. McConnell’s antipathy to campaign regulation appears to be trumping his duty to voters.

The FEC has never been an especially vigilant cop, but its work is still valuable. In addition to facilitating disclosure of campaign contributions and disbursements, it’s a venue for outside complaints. The criminal case against Fruman and Parnas may have originated in a complaint filed with the FEC last year by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group that supports campaign-finance regulation. The criminal charges filed by the Justice Department against Fruman and Parnas include lying to the FEC.

McConnell should immediately schedule hearings on the Trainor nomination. The commission needs another Republican to restore its partisan balance as well as to form a quorum. Then, he and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer should offer Trump five qualified nominees, enabling a clean sweep of old members (all of whose terms have nominally expired) by new replacements.

America’s elections are under attack. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan report and the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller made that clear. Leaving the Federal Election Commission impotent in the face of such threats is grossly irresponsible.

Today's Bible verse

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.”

— Psalm 95:2-3

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