FEC Deputy Counsel Stevenson Now Acting General Counsel

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Sept. 26 — The Federal Election Commission has named Lisa J. Stevenson, who has served for four years as the agency's deputy general counsel, to serve as acting general counsel.

Stevenson replaced Daniel Petalas, who left the FEC acting general counsel post earlier this month (See previous story, 08/31/16).

An FEC announcement of Stevenson's appointment gave no indication if the commission will appoint a permanent general counsel. The agency's top legal staff position has been vacant for more than three years, reflecting disagreements among the six FEC commissioners and a legal impediment that prevents the FEC from being able to pay a top salary for the general counsel's post.

Stevenson joined the FEC in May 2012, the agency said, serving as special counsel to then-General Counsel Anthony Herman. In October 2012, she was named FEC deputy general counsel for law, where she assisted in overseeing all units of the Office of General Counsel.

Prior to joining the FEC, Stevenson was in private practice at the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. Prior to that, she worked at the firm Covington & Burling.

“We greatly appreciate Lisa's willingness to accept this position and know that she will provide excellent leadership and guidance in this capacity,” FEC Chairman Matthew Petersen said in the agency statement.

Counsel Post Long Vacant

The FEC hasn't had a permanent general counsel since the 2013 departure of Herman from the post following a dispute with Republican commissioners over enforcement procedures.

Petalas, the former head of the FEC's enforcement division, was named acting general counsel last year. He left the agency this month to join the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer.

Deep ideological divisions among Republican and Democratic commissioners on the FEC have contributed to preventing them from agreeing on a person to appoint to the sensitive post of top legal and enforcement officer.

The six-member FEC is divided among three commissioners recommended by Democrats and three Republicans. The votes of at least four commissioners are required for key staff appointments, as well as policy and enforcement decisions, requiring at least some level of bipartisan cooperation on these matters.

The failure of the commissioners to fill top staff positions, including the general counsel's post, has led to repeated criticism of the agency. Most recently, a report commissioned by the FEC inspector general's office blamed the FEC commissioners for low employee morale at the agency and pointed to gridlock on key staff appointments as a major reason for that.

In addition, part of the problem with filling the top FEC staff posts has been a provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act that caps the salary of the general counsel and the FEC staff director. The FEC has recommended in the past that Congress change this provision of the law to help recruit qualified applicants for these jobs, but Congress has shown no interest in this issue or other possible structural changes at the agency.

New Enforcement Matters

In a separate announcement, the FEC released the results of several enforcement matters, including a case resulting in a $10,500 fine against a political action committee linked to former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

The FEC also announced two enforcement matters resolved under the agency's Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program.

One case (ADR 802) resulted in a $2,200 fine paid by a pro-Jeb Bush PAC, called Right to Rise, for accepting excessive contributions. The PAC acknowledged failing to transfer $32,500 in contributions that exceeded federal contribution limits to a non-federal account, according to a settlement with the FEC.

Another case (ADR 801), involving campaign finance violations by Atlanta-based The Home Depot Inc., was resolved without any FEC fine. Home Depot self-reported to the FEC in a “sua sponte” submission that it made payroll deductions for PAC donations from some employees who were not legally eligible to contribute to the company PAC.

The sua sponte submission was filed on behalf of Home Depot by attorneys Jan Witold Baran and D. Mark Renaud of the law firm Wiley Rein.

Agency staff recommended that the FEC commissioners dismiss the case without a penalty because Home Depot conducted a comprehensive investigation “after discovering the processing errors,” refunded the improper PAC contributions to the employes involved and voluntarily reported the matter to the FEC. The payroll deduction errors resulted in nearly $52,000 in impermissible contributions out of $14.3 million in total company PAC contributions during period in which these contributions were collected—about 0.36 percent of the total.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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