In Cleveland, a Tale of Two FEC Commissioners

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Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity, left, with Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight.

InDepthNH.org is posting Center for Public Integrity stories from the Republican and Democratic conventions, which will be updated daily.

Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity’s money-in-politics reporting team is bringing you news from the Republican National Convention — focusing on special-interest influence, big-money politicking and corporate schmoozing. Senior political reporter Dave Levinthal is on the ground in Cleveland. 

 

IN CLEVELAND, A TALE OF TWO FEC COMMISSIONERS

1:52 p.m. Thursday, July 21, 2016: It wasn’t many weeks ago that Ann Ravel, a Democratic appointee to the Federal Election Commission, was dodging a new round of death threats and Drudge Report headlines after suggesting — much to some conservatives’ chagrin — her agency should explore tightening rules that govern online political advertising.

But here Ravel is in Cleveland, having never before attended a national political convention — Democratic or Republican.

So, first things first, Commissioner Ravel: are you a masochist?

“I feel safe,” she said, smiling — then acknowledging her family wasn’t jazzed about her attending. “There are so many police officers here, and they are all wonderful.”centerforpublic

Ravel traveled to the Republican National Convention along with four of her FEC commissioner colleagues because, she says, determining the role money plays in politics “is not a Republican issue or a Democratic” issue.

“Trump has said that himself during his campaign,” Ravel noted. “Trump — his support came in part because he said he wasn’t beholden to other people with lots of money.”

Ravel is hitting several bipartisan-themed, outside-the-convention-bubble events being conducted this week and plans to evangelize her philosophy of political transparency to any and all who will listen.

For one, Ravel was the only FEC commissioner — and one of the few attendees of any sort — at a Monday rally in Cleveland’s Public Square conducted by conservative money-in-politics reformer John Pudner of Take Back Our Republic and businessman Morris Pearl of bipartisan advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires.

Ravel, who joined the often-gridlocked FEC in late 2013 and served as the agency’s chairwoman during 2015, is also planning to attend the Democratic National Convention next week in Philadelphia.

Opposite Ravel is Lee Goodman, a Republican FEC commissioner and agency chairman in 2014 — and very much a national convention veteran during his years working as a lawyer in party politics and private practice.

In 2012, a year before he joined the FEC, Goodman provided legal counsel to also-ran Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, whose supporters agitated for recognition during that year’s Republican National Convention.

For Goodman, this year’s Republican National Convention is “an opportunity to re-connect with political practitioners and election law types — I’m simply here as an interested observer,” he said.

It’s healthy, Goodman said, for FEC commissioners of any political persuasion to get out of the Washington, D.C., bubble from time to time, and see party politics in action. He doesn’t have a rigid schedule for himself — some informal meetings, a few get-togethers, strolling around the convention grounds.

As a commissioner, Goodman has advocated for rules and regulations that help strengthen local, state and national party committees in this post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission era of politicking, in which super PACs and certain nonprofit groups often supersede party organizations in fundraising because of their ability to collect unlimited amounts of money. (Federal laws mandate that party committees must raise their cash in limited increments.)

A victory for Goodman’s philosophy stands in action here at the Republican National Convention, as the Republican Party has raised millions of dollars through a new kind of political fundraising account parties may use specifically for conducting political conventions. When it comes to raising cash for these accounts, Republicans have dominated Democrats, as the Center for Public Integrity noted Wednesday.

Goodman says he’d love to attend the Democratic National Convention next week in Philadelphia but will instead be in North Carolina for a long-standing family vacation.

Dave Levinthal

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