Ann Ravel, formerly of the FEC, spent her first day after resigning with fellow progressives at the Center for American Progress. During an event on Wednesday, dramatically titled “Departing Dysfunction,” she delivered remarks and then joined a panel discussion on campaign finance law.
Ravel spent much of the event repeating arguments she made while at the FEC, but with extra venom. Among other things, she implied her former Republican colleagues on the Commission lacked integrity, and that their interpretations of campaign finance laws were malicious. “If they did that in a court of law, it would be contempt of court,” Ravel derisively claimed.
Her main theme at the event was the FEC’s supposed “dysfunction.” However, remarks Ravel herself made at the panel portion of the event managed to contradict her argument.
When asked about the Commission’s historic functioning since being created after Watergate, Ravel first claimed that the FEC worked very well until more recently. But, notably, she conceded, “it’s never been a really active agency as far as I understand.”
This comment is extremely telling. Ravel has spent considerable time publicly decrying current Republican commissioners as obstructionists, who have, in her eyes, managed to “gridlock” the agency and thus enforcement of campaign finance law. Yet, if the FEC hasn’t been a “really active agency” for most of its history, what is she comparing the activity of today’s FEC to?
Ravel has argued that the FEC has deadlocked on enforcement votes more frequently as of late, but if her characterization of FEC history is true, it could very well be a result of the FEC’s increased activism in recent years, as evidenced by her own desire to expand beyond the reach of written law, judicial precedent, and the FEC’s actual mission. To someone who wants vastly increased powers for an administrative agency, any check on authority must seem like inconvenient “gridlock.”
A fellow panelist, former FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble, offered historical perspective as well. Noble noted that even during his tenure on the Commission (he was hired in 1987), pro-regulation groups like Common Cause were already claiming that the FEC was dysfunctional, and that it has “never been seen as a strong enforcement agency.” Furthermore, both Ravel and Noble described how the bipartisan nature of the FEC – an intentional feature of the Commission’s design that enables the kind of “gridlock” they decry – is actually helpful for preventing partisan overreach and legitimizing the FEC’s areas of bipartisan agreement to outside judges and observers. When viewed in context, it seems the agency is working exactly as intended.
Despite these revealing comments, don’t expect Ravel to alter her “FEC dysfunction” narrative anytime soon. “A lot of people think I’m too outspoken,” she said, citing media outlets like The Wall Street Journal. And yet, she promised, “I don’t think they’ve seen anything yet… there’s a lot that remains to be told.”
Her choice of venue for her first day of private citizenship – and her choice words for her former colleagues – should provide a clear preview of what to expect from Ann Ravel in her post-FEC future.