FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel Discusses Campaign Finance

On Tuesday, April 5, commissioner of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Ann Ravel, was brought to campus for a brown bag organized by Democracy Matters and the Department of Political Science. The brown bag took place in the Batza Meeting Room.

Junior Alison LePard, the President and Founder of the Democracy Matters chapter at Colgate, explained the motivation for organizing the event.

“We were hoping to provide students with the opportunity to interact with one of the key individuals who works closely with campaigns and sees firsthand the role that money plays. While it’s great to hear individuals on the campus talk about the theories behind campaign finance, the first hand knowledge and experience she provided is truly invaluable,” LePard said.

Ravel described the Federal Election Commission’s purpose and importance, particularly in its role in the 2016 election cycle. Following Watergate, which Ravel said was primarily a campaign finance scandal, the Federal Election Commission was founded.

“The public and Congress wanted to have an agency that would make sure there would be an enforcement of campaign finance laws,” Ravel said. 

Ravel explained that enforcement comes with a high level of responsibility.

“Despite the fact that we are called the Federal Election Commission, our actual scope of responsibility has to do with the financing of elections – campaign contributions, expenditures and we also oversee the federal public financing system,” Ravel explained.

Ravel further elaborated on the structure of the committee. The Federal Election Commission consists of six individuals – three Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent. In recent years, it has turned into a highly politicized commission. Ravel was appointed by President Barack Obama, and suggests that the recent appointment process contributes to the newly politicized nature. Currently, those on the commission are typically appointed by the majority leader. 

This leads to the primary issue that the FEC faces today—with three of the members having been appointed by majority leader Mitch McConnell, who does not believe in campaign finance laws, a committee is created in which members do not necessarily believe in the laws they are supposed to be enforcing. 

“We hope people came away from the talk with a better understanding of the FEC and the responsibilities and limitations it possesses,” LePard said.  

Sophomore Sophie Paulison found Ravel’s talk interesting and engaging.

“I thought that Ann Ravel was unexpectedly approachable and candid about partisan paralysis in government and its effect on money in politics,” Paulison said. 

Sophomore Ellen Brunker was also impressed by Ravel’s talk.

“It was really surprising to hear from her about how most candidates do not even use the FEC for funding their campaigns. She also did a good job explaining the role of the FEC, and the extent of [its] power,” Brunker said.

Ravel argued that the FEC’s current potential for impact on the election is, while on a smaller scale, comparable to the impact of the United States Supreme Court and its approach to campaign finance. 

“People should be concerned about it, as what we do has direct impact on the election,” Ravel said. 

While the Supreme Court also supports campaign finance disclosure and coordination, the presence of undisclosed, dark money, and coordination issues with Super PACs remain prevalent issues this election cycle. 

“The statistics are that most of the money in campaigns is now given by 1 percent of the 1 percent of the American people. What that means is, for all of you, who are about to start out in a political system and country that is supposed to be a representative democracy, that a lot of the policies in these countries are being affected by a small number of people,”  Ravel elaborated. 

Ravel then concluded her talk, urging those in attendance to speak up to affect change. 

“We can’t give up, that’s giving in. We have to participate in our political system for there to be a society such as what we really deserve, for everyone to have a voice,” Ravel said.