The Senate today confirmed James E. “Trey” Trainor III as a member of the Federal Election Commission, reestablishing a quorum just months ahead of the 2020 general election. Since August 2019, when one of the commissioners resigned, the Commission has lacked a quorum, and as a result has been unable to investigate complaints, collect fines, issue advisory opinions, or promulgate new rules.
With Trainor’s appointment, the FEC will have four commissioners—the minimum number required to take official action. This means that any vote must be unanimous, which history suggests may be hard to come by, particularly on major issues. Even when there might be broad agreement, if one Commissioner is recused from a matter due to an actual conflict or the appearance of one, the Commission would be prevented from acting on that matter.
At full strength, the Commission is a six-member body, where no more than three can be from the same political party. This structure ensures there is bipartisan support for every official action. The current Commission consists of two Republicans, one Democrat, and an independent who generally sides with the Democrats. Despite calls to fill the remaining vacancies, no further appointments appear to be imminent.
Commissioner Trainor will be greeted with a full plate. The backlog on the Commission’s enforcement docket has grown to an estimated 300 matters, some of which will need prompt action to avoid an expiring statute of limitations. Several advisory opinion requests have been pending since last summer, including questions about an online fundraising platform and the use of campaign funds to pay a candidate’s health insurance premiums. The FEC also will have to reengage in pending litigation, including one case where a default judgment was entered against the agency due to its inability to defend itself.
Venable’s Political Law group represents clients before the Federal Election Commission and helps clients comply with FEC rules and regulations.