Happy New Year! This year is the 40th anniversary of the FEC. As we mark this milestone, it’s worth remembering that the essential purpose of the FEC has always been to protect our democracy by ensuring a level playing field where everyone in the political process abides by the same set of rules; by providing predictability and clarity to those involved in the political process; and by disclosing who is behind political messages.
The FEC exists to serve the public. But for too long it has been a cloistered agency which hears from certain stakeholders with a direct interest in the Commission’s actions, but rarely interacts with the public. In my more than 40 years of law practice, at every level of government, I have learned that it is crucial to listen not only to stakeholders, but also to other experts, business leaders, and citizens from all walks of life and all perspectives, to make thoughtful policy decisions on behalf of the public. This is particularly important at the FEC because what we do is fundamental to our democracy and has an impact on all people.
What we need are more public voices and more speech at the Commission. To accomplish this, I have asked staff members throughout the agency to assess whether what they do to engage stakeholders and the general public has been effective, and to make recommendations about how to improve. I also welcome your suggestions about how we can be more accessible and responsive. In the same spirit, I will continue the initiative begun by Commissioner Goodman last year of having public forums on topics of interest to stakeholders and the public. In addition, the public has a one-of-a-kind opportunity to communicate directly with Commissioners to express their views on campaign finance policy at a public hearing on February 11th. I encourage you to attend that hearing in person or listen in through the FEC website.
Technology is another priority. When I arrived here, I saw an agency that had fallen behind when it comes to technology – both in our own technology as well as in our decision-making process about technologies used in campaigns. We are living in an era of digital currencies, mobile advertising, and online fundraising, but the FEC in many ways remains in the era of microfilm and telegrams.
Technological innovation is changing politics and campaign finance, and we must be informed by listening to experts and gathering views about emerging technologies. Along with many of my colleagues, I am looking forward to gaining essential insights during a symposium in the Bay Area on February 19th and 20th. This will be an incredible opportunity to hear from leading technologists and scholars about technology’s impact on the future of campaigns and civic engagement.
I am also committed to continuing to try to find common ground with my fellow commissioners. Thanks to the great work of Commissioners Goodman and Hunter, the Citizens United/McCutcheon rulemaking showed that compromise is possible. I hope we can build on those efforts and work together to move the agency forward to provide stakeholders and the public with clear guidance about how to comply with the law.
And, this year I will prioritize improving communication with our staff. Vice Chair Petersen and I will have a series of meetings throughout the year to increase information given to staff, and to hear what they think. Each and every employee of this agency provides an incredibly important public service and makes a valuable contribution. We need to remember that the work we do has enormous significance. It really matters.
It is an honor to serve as Chair, and I look forward to working with you this year.