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FEC ruling on Stormy Daniels payment could take a year or longer

Vacancies and procedure will likely slow down ruling on campaign complaint

WASHINGTON — Current and former Federal Election Commission officials tell NBC News it could take a year or longer for the FEC to address the case of whether Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels represents an unreported in-kind, contribution to the Trump campaign.

The FEC, which is charged with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance law, is understaffed with two current vacancies on its six-member commission. And two sources with direct knowledge tell NBC News that the FEC is still closing previous cases from the 2015-2016 election cycle.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, received the $130,000 payout 11 days before the 2016 presidential election in return for her silence over her allegations that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. The White House has repeatedly denied the president had any involvement with Daniels.

Since the payment far exceeds the maximum allowed for direct campaign contributions, it could be deemed illegal if it was meant to benefit the president’s election bid. The watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint earlier this year, requesting that the FEC and the Department of Justice investigate the matter.

But Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the process won't be speedy.

“I think it is almost impossible for FEC to finish by the end of year,” Potter told NBC News.

Former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel agrees.

“The FEC is understaffed primarily in the enforcement division. So it does have an impact on the ability to aggressively enforce matters and bring them up before the commission in a timely fashion,” Ravel said.

Both Potter and Ravel point to another reason why FEC investigations are often delayed — partisan gridlock among commission members.

“The commission has deadlocked, split between Democrats and Republicans, on almost every issue in the last eight years. I don’t think the FEC will resolve this. There’s a possibility that the DOJ could step in if they thought this was worth directly investigating,” Potter said.

The FEC is currently comprised of a two Republican members, one Democrat and an independent who organizes with Democrats.

Ravel points to the commission's process as yet another complicating factor.

“The chair of the commission has the authority to determine when to place matters on the agenda for consideration," Ravel said, "and the commissioners themselves can request that matters be postponed. One request can postpone a matter.”

One source tells NBC News the current FEC chairman, Republican Caroline Hunter, is said to be purusing a post within the Trump administration.