When Beverly Davis began disqualifying numerous applicants for the Federal Election Commission's vacant inspector general job — including a long-time staff attorney for Commissioner Matthew Petersen — agency superiors protested.
Accusations and allegations flew. A turf war ensued.
Davis said she was "attacked, retaliated against and bullied" into reassessing the qualifications of applicants she deemed subpar. After being overruled, Davis closed the job opening for the position — the agency's internal watchdog — and resigned from her job as a senior human resources specialist, forcing the FEC to restart its search. The position has now been open for more than two years.
The May 2018 fracas, described in interviews and a series of internal emails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, is but one of several stumbles that have helped render the FEC's inspector general office effectively nonfunctional since November, when the lone deputy inspector general quit.
This matters because the inspector general office investigates waste, fraud and abuse at the FEC, including accusations against commissioners. The bipartisan FEC is itself responsible for enforcing and regulating national campaign finance laws but has long been hamstrung by ideological divisions, low staff morale and other long-standing vacancies, including two of six FEC commissioner slots.
So the lack of an inspector general means no one is watching the election watchdog — at a time when few feel the FEC is functioning effectively, even as its missions are evermore important. The FEC's struggles are set against the backdrop of an accelerating chase for presidential campaign cash and prominent political money scandals — alleged porn actress hush-money payments and foreign infiltration among them.
Some in Congress are growing impatient.
"I intend to ask for their plan to fill longstanding and important vacancies at the commission, including the inspector general position," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, which has FEC oversight responsibilities. Lofgren is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1, a sweeping ethics reform bill that calls for an FEC overhaul, and has promised to soon conduct the first oversight hearing on the FEC since 2011.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, "strongly supports the swift hiring of a new inspector general at the FEC," said her spokeswoman, Elana Ross. (The office of committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., did not return requests for comment.)
FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, says she expects the commission will select an inspector general soon, either on a permanent or "acting" basis. Petersen, the Republican vice chairman, concurred.
"We need an IG, we want an IG and we're all spending a lot of hours trying to get the best person for the job," Weintraub said. "Yes, we've run into some unforeseen circumstances, some hiccups along the road."
A long road it's most certainly been. And it hasn't ended yet.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.