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FEC earning congressional attention — for the wrong reasons

FEC Vice Chairwoman Caroline Hunter, a Republican, concurred: “If Congress wants to hear from us, we’ll do whatever it takes to prepare, and we’ll be happy to answer their questions.”

Walther might, however, have a few questions of his own for Congress, which has all but ignored an annual legislative wish list the FEC’s commissioners send members.

Walther says he’s particularly interested in senators justifying their failure to file their campaign finance reports electronically, a move that’s estimated to save taxpayers about $500,000 yearly. Unlike presidential and House candidates, Senate candidates continue filing their official reports on paper.

Congressional oversight hearings on the FEC would also be “an opportunity for the agency to state, for the record, the positive things it’s doing,” said former FEC Chairman Scott Thomas, a Democrat who today is a partner at law firm Blank Rome LLP. Thomas quickly noted that members of Congress will nevertheless want to know “what the heck is going on there in terms of hiring up and low staff morale.”

High points for the agency include a long-awaited, soon-to-be-completed website redesign and the move to a new, more efficient agency headquarters.

A hearing is also an opportunity for Congress to reassert its oversight of the FEC — something that in recent years has been “very uneven,” said Michael Toner, a former Republican chairman of the FEC and current partner at law firm Wiley Rein LLP.

“It keeps you on your toes and make you a better commissioner when you have public accountability,” Toner said.

Given the FEC’s troubles, why has Congress not conducted an FEC oversight hearing since early this decade?

“It’s their job to look at us in Congress,” Loudermilk said, “so you sometimes don’t have a lot of us wanting to go after them.”

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