Visit by FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

On Thursday, November 5, the Election Law Society sponsored an event in which Commissioner Ann Ravel, the chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), speak over the lunch hour. While a free lunch is always a draw to go to an event, the fact that the current chair of a major federal agency was speaking at the school made the event too good to pass up. I have always had an interest in election law and administrative law, and I am also interested in developing a career in the Washington, D.C. area, so I was eager to hear Commissioner Ravel’s perspective on election law and the FEC.

Before joining the FEC, Commissioner Ravel served on California’s version of the FEC—the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Commissioner Ravel shared with us a few stories from her time on the FPPC, including an instance that involved a strange group from Arizona donated money to support a California proposition, and the difficult process and legal battle that resulted in just trying to audit what turned out to be a “shell” of a political action committee. I thought it was very interesting to see how major money influences politics on a state-level, even though it seems nationally spent election money gets the most attention. After some time on California’s FPPC, Commissioner Ravel was nominated by President Obama to serve on the FEC and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

Ann Ravel

Ann Ravel

Discussing federal campaign finance, Commissioner Ravel described many of the problems with not requiring disclosure of campaign contributions in the United States. Commissioner Ravel spoke about how she feels that citizens should be as informed as possible when making decisions in a democracy, and the lack of disclosure requirements in some situations gives rise to “dark money” that hinders the ability of citizens to be fully informed. I will be honest—I do not feel well-versed enough in campaign finance and election law to describe the intricate processes of campaign finance completely, but I do generally agree with Commissioner Ravel that disclosure of campaign contributions should be a cornerstone of democratic elections. While Commissioner Ravel spoke about the realistic roadblocks in getting meaningful reform through the FEC (including an unfavorable Supreme Court decision in Citizen United), her articulate and honest statements about the challenges facing the FEC and campaign finance in generally make me think that the FEC is in good hands.

Commissioner Ravel also spoke about some of the new and upcoming changes to the FEC. In particular, the FEC is aiming to improve its online systems and make federal election campaign contributions more readily available to those interested in such information. While the website is currently in a beta form right now, Commissioner Ravel seemed especially excited about what the new website would be able to provide. Feel free to check it out here! I used the beta site to look up information on home district’s congressman, and I was surprised to see how many contributions came from different states other than my home state of Pennsylvania.

Overall, I had a great time listening to Commissioner Ravel speak. I owe the Election Law Society a big thank you for sponsoring the event, and I owe an even bigger thank to Commissioner Ravel for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with us.

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