Ellen Weintraub, the Federal Election Commission chair, spoke to political science students about the commission, campaign finance law and foreign interference into elections on Wednesday.
Weintraub, a Democrat who has served as a commissioner on the U.S. Federal Election Commission since 2002, answered questions from students from Professor Robin Kolodny’s money and politics class.
Students and Weintraub discussed her tweet-storm from last friday where she posted a foreign interference memo to twitter after claiming publication was blocked by Republican commissioner Caroline Hunter, the New York Times reported.
“[Weintraub] was able to provide some meaningful insights into what her job entails at the FEC and helped answer questions that would’ve been hard to come by just reading textbooks, and articles,” said Ajay Agnihotri, a senior political science and economics major.
Weintraub told the class that she enjoys escaping the intensity of Washington D.C. and talking to people she doesn’t normally speak to. She is currently on a tour visiting various regional higher education institutions like Temple, Bryn Mawr College, and Villanova University, Kolodny said.
“It’s really invigorating for me to talk to folks like you,” Weintraub said. “I think right now we’re in a moment where understanding campaign finance law is really critical to knowing what is going on in our democracy.”
The FEC only has three members, thanks to former FEC’s Vice Chairman, Matthew Petersen, resignation back in September, leaving three seats on the six-member board open. With three members, the FEC cannot carry out its duties, like administering and enforce campaign finance law, because the commission needs four members to have a quorum, which gives them the ability to vote on initiating or concluding investigations.
“Sometimes people are willing to push the envelope on the laws and I think that’s where it’s really vital to have a body that is willing to push back and enforce the law,” Weintraub said. “And right now as you probably know, we can’t really do that.”
Although the FEC doesn’t have enough sitting members at the moment, Weintraub affirmed for the class that the FEC is not sitting idle.
“There are over 300 people who work for the FEC that are still coming to work every single day,” Weintraub said. “And they are doing their best for the American public and they are still collecting all this information that campaigns are filing.”
While Kolodny was thrilled to have Weintraub visit, she was disheartened that her students were so in awe that someone in a position like Weintraub’s would come and speak to them, pointing out that Temple is often overlooked when it comes to visits like this.
“Not as many people know about Temple as they should, and sometimes people like this come into town, they get off the train, they go to UPenn, and then they get back on the train,” Kolodny said.
Senior political science major, Peter McGinnis, also wishes that more speakers like Weintraub would visit the university.
“I wish there were more events like this because it engages students more than the classic professor-to-student lecture does,” Mcginnis said. “We’re all going to Temple to become professionals in our chosen fields, so it’s nice to hear from other professionals.”