March 10, 2014

Last Week at the FEC: Audit Reports, Budgets and Strategic Planning

Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington Blog
Andy Emerson

Last week the Federal Election Commission met in open and executive sessions on Thursday, March 6. During its open Session the Commission adopted technical corrections to its regulations and approved Final Audit Reports for state and county party committees in Texas, Iowa, Vermont and South Carolina.

In addition, the Commission and the Solano County United Democratic Central Committee agreed to a 60-day extension to allow the Commission to further consider the Committee's request to use funds accumulated by a now-defunct related committee, which this blog discussed on February 24. The Commission also released various enforcement records related to Matters Under Review (MURs) that it dismissed or concluded via conciliation agreement.

On March 7, the Commission released its Budget Justification for FY2015 as well as its FY 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.

Audit Reports and Employee Recordkeeping

The Commission approved Final Audit Reports related to activities by the Dallas County Republican Party, the Republican Party of Iowa, the Vermont Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party of South Carolina. These four reports dealt with these committees' failure to maintain adequate logs regarding payment of committee employees with funds contributed to support either federal or state candidates. 

All four of these Reports concluded that the party committees involved had failed to adequately log how employees working on both state and federal elections where paid in 2009-2010, and resulted in the committees' agreement to maintain such records moving forward. Notably, however, the Reports did not make any finding regarding the committees' failure to keep a log for employees paid exclusively with federal funds. Although the Commission concluded by a vote of 5-1 that 11 C.F.R. §106.7(d)(1) does require such logs, it exercised its prosecutorial discretion not to enforce that provision.

The Final Report for the Republican Party of Iowa was also notable because the Commission disagreed and then deadlocked, in a 3-3 vote, as to whether it had the requisite jurisdiction to require state committees to maintain time logs for payroll disbursements from exclusively non-federal accounts. For now, it appears that state committees will not be held accountable for failing to maintain logs for such employees, though not doing so could result in additional complexity to any future audit response necessitated by an inquiry from the Commission's staff.

FY2015 Budget Justification for Congress

The Commission published its FY 2015 budget justification, which calls for a 2.5 percent increase in overall expenditures, with a top-level appropriation of $67,500,000, to support 347 full-time equivalent employees, including a one percent raise and new IT positions. 

The Commission's justification notes that it has seen a significant increase in the volume of campaign finance-related activity since the Supreme Court's Citizen’s United decision in 2010, and that it received roughly 81,600 filings disclosing over 30 million financial transactions in 2013.

The Commission Released its Five-Year Strategic Plan: 2014-2019

Along with its budget justification, the Commission also released its five-year strategic plan, which includes four overarching objectives:

  • Engage and inform the public about campaign finance data.
  • Promote compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and related statutes.
  • Interpret the FECA and related statutes.
  • Foster a culture of high performance.

The Commission intends to engage and inform the public by expanding and easing online access to raw data and summaries of disclosure date while improving its procedures to process reports in a timely basis. It will seek to promote compliance by expanding its education programs while adopting "strategic settlement terms" as part of future enforcement actions. 

The Commission appears to plan to continue its current activities related to interpreting the FECA through rulemaking and the Advisory Opinion Request (AOR) process. Amongst other activities, the Commission intends to "foster high performance" by developing a records management program that more efficiently preserves and discloses the basis for its decisions. The Strategic Plan does not provide any specific detail regarding how the Commission will undertake any of the implementing activities outlined in the plan. 

The plan does outline specific performance goals, including what it considers "indicators of success" for those goals, and provides a space for future reports regarding historical trends related to each. Notably, the only objective where such data has been provided relates to "adherence to FECA requirements through fair, effective, and timely enforcement and compliance programs." The Strategy Plan calls for resolving at least 80 percent of enforcement matters within 15 months of receipt by the Commission. It notes that historically the Commission was able to resolve nearly 89 percent of matters within that time frame in 2011, but that its most recent data shows that it is currently only meeting this goal only 72 percent of the time.

It remains to be seen whether the Commission's adoption of such specific performance goals and metrics will spur it to provide more efficient services moving forward.

Meeting Schedule

The Commission is scheduled to meet in executive session on Tuesday, March 11. It will not meet again in open session until Tuesday, March 18, agenda documents for that meeting have yet to be released.

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