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  • FEC Record: Commission

Message from the Chairman

January 2, 2009

First, let me begin my first message in the Record by publicly thanking every member of our staff for their steadfast and loyal work during this trying period of last year. As most of you know, for a period of 191 days, from January 1 to July 10, the day the reinstituted Commission held its first open session of the year, the Commission was not comprised of enough Commissioners (at least four of the usual six) to take any formal actions. Despite the absence of Commissioners, the staff continued to work diligently through this period of dormancy, facing uncertainty regarding when new Commissioners might be installed to begin picking up the pieces, and how to meet timelines and deadlines during a historic election year. Surely last year was unprecedented and we all hope that this kind of disruption will never recur. Upon our reinstatement, however, there was a need to choose priorities as quickly as possible, and to begin to work on the most urgent matters with the same kind of thoroughness and diligence that those matters are entitled to receive. I know I speak on behalf of each of the Commissioners that we appreciate this effort and loyalty during this uncertain period.

Second, I want to express deep appreciation to each of my fellow Commissioners for the way that we have begun to work on these matters. We come from different backgrounds. Most of us did not know each other before our arrival. We were faced with an awesome load of responsibilities to discharge as soon as possible. Former Chairman McGahn was asked to serve as Chairman within only a few days after his arrival—probably another unprecedented situation—after a period of dormancy—with five new Commissioners, four of whom were entirely new to the Commission.

Much has been done to develop a working relationship to provide positive results, despite the fact the Agency was designed to bring different points of view to the table on important matters. In the process, we were all subject to some sharp elbows from each other on matters of procedure as well as policy, but we all recognize and appreciate our critical need to work together collegially and civilly, and much has been done to develop a productive relationship.

Third, looking forward, we have a very challenging year ahead, but one I am confident we will be able to successfully complete.

There remains some backlog of enforcement matters which raise novel, complex and important legal questions. Aside from pending matters, the Commissioners will hold a public hearing and obtain comment, from inside and outside the Agency, on ways to improve its enforcement mechanisms, policies and procedures. It is the broadest inquiry that the Agency has initiated, and one which I am confident will result in many positive and helpful suggestions. The goal is to learn ways to improve Commission transparency, fairness and efficiency in the enforcement, as well as the interpretation, of applicable laws and regulations. I invite each of you to provide your own constructive thinking of these issues, and to channel them to us by mail or Internet as provided on the Commission webpage on this matter at

The Agency is presently operating under a Continuing Resolution of Congress, which means the Commission is confined by its budget limit of last fiscal year of $59.2 million, until further funding occurs. This would be acceptable in normal times, but in addition, from that budget, the Commission must meet an additional approximate $1.9 million of salary increases for our approximately 360 employees, as well as approximately $900,000 in increased rent, in addition to other overhead increases that must be absorbed. As a result, the Commission is operating under a very tight fiscal situation and presently is unable to expand, and indeed must contract, certain of its usual services.

This year there are several initiatives which I would like for the Commission to undertake. One is to take a new look at ways the Commission can improve its web site, and the information it makes available on the Internet. The Commission database stores a massive amount of information, but there are undoubtedly better ways to make it more accessible, user-friendly, intuitive and therefore more educational. It will be helpful to the candidates, the public officeholders and certainly the electorate to have the best possible access to this information. The second initiative is to explore how the Commission can expand the availability, accessibility and searchability of its disclosure databases and of past Commission actions (such as Advisory Opinions and closed Matters Under Review) to make these important materials publicly available to all users, from counsel to political committees, press and the public generally. Traditionally, thorough research of matters of a historical nature frequently requires research of our archives, most of which is on microfilm, by physically visiting our offices. This often means hiring a local Washington, DC, lawyer to accomplish this research. Much of this could be made available to all with an expansion of current Commission databases and an improved sorting mechanism. Third, part of the web site evaluation would include an examination of how to make the Agency’s reporting forms more user-friendly and intuitive and how to simplify the electronic filing process. Fourth, it is time for the Commission to have an agency-wide assessment of its procedures, structure and internal oversight responsibilities, which was recently strongly recommended to the Commission by its independent auditors, one which has not been done of this Agency for approximately 10 years.

With all of these issues and initiatives, as well as our current schedule and usual workload, we have our work cut out for us. We welcome your advice on these and any other matters that you believe will provide a better service as we move forward this year.

  • Author 
    • Chairman Steven T. Walther