The Senate confirmed Trey Trainor, a Texas election attorney, to fill one of the empty seats on the Federal Elections Commission, restoring a quorum for the nation’s chief campaign finance watchdog that has not had one for nearly a year.
Trainor was confirmed on a 49-43 party-line vote on Tuesday afternoon.
Before Trainor’s confirmation, the FEC has been functionally toothless for the past 37 weeks, unable to enforce campaign finance regulations or issue guidance to campaigns or outside groups. It was the longest time in the agency’s history that it went without a quorum.
The committee had been unable to address complaints alleging violations of campaign finance laws. As of the end of the first quarter, there were 333 pending cases unaddressed, according to a report from the commission’s acting general counsel.
The caseload includes about three dozen alleging foreign interference, a backlog that could take years to winnow down completely.
“I am grateful for the trust that President Trump has placed in me, and I am heartened by the confirmation of the U.S. Senate. I look forward to serving the American people in this important position,” Trainor said in a statement to The Washington Post.
Trainor’s confirmation comes over the objection of both Senate Democrats and several good-government groups.
Democrats in the Senate lodged two major objections to Trainor's confirmation, citing his fairly hands-off views of campaign finance regulations and that he was nominated individually instead of in a bipartisan pair.
All three of the remaining commissioners — one Democrat, one Republican and an independent who usually votes with Democratic commissioners — are serving well past their original terms, having all been confirmed during the second Bush administration.
Some campaign watchdogs have also opposed Trainor because of his anti-regulatory views.
“We hope that Trey Trainor will faithfully uphold the anti-corruption laws on the books and work with his colleagues to swiftly resolve the backlog of complaints and advisory opinion requests before the FEC, despite the concerns raised about his qualifications during the confirmation process," said Meredith McGehee, the executive director of Issue One, in a statement following his confirmation.
The Institute for Free Speech, another watchdog that shares much of Trainor’s anti-regulatory worldview, supported his confirmation. IFS chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC commissioner, called him a “welcome addition” to the FEC who would defend the First Amendment.
The future of the embattled commission also remains shaky. With just four commissioners out of the six total seats, there needs to be unanimous agreement for any future rulemaking, authorization of investigations or to issue any sort of punishments for violations.
Since the FEC lost its quorum nearly nine months ago — the longest such time period in the agency’s history — some watchdog groups have taken to suing the FEC in federal court for not enforcing campaign finance regulations. However, without a quorum, the FEC was unable to authorize a defense of itself.
Across the spectrum, campaign finance groups have called for a new slate of commissioners to be nominated to serve on unexpired terms, so one commissioner’s resignation won’t trigger another shutdown.