The list of Democrats launching presidential campaigns grows daily – at least seven people have declared their intentions and dozens more are considering running.
But the agency that enforces federal campaign finance laws remains shuttered in the nation’s longest-running government shutdown.
Some 269 staffers, or nearly 90% of the 300-member workforce, at the Federal Election Commission have been furloughed since the shutdown began on December 22, according to the commission’s publicly available shutdown plan.
Candidates still can file reports electronically to launch presidential exploratory committees or detail their fundraising and spending, but FEC workers are not on hand to review the paperwork or answer questions from campaign officials.
Enforcement activity for potential violations of election law has stopped, and it’s not clear that the government will reopen before January 31, when federal candidates and political committees file reports covering their activity during the tail end of the 2018 midterm elections.
“The 2020 campaign is up and running. This is not a time when the FEC ought to be offline,” Ellen Weintraub, the agency’s chairwoman, told CNN. “We need to be there for people, so that we can make sure that the laws are being properly interpreted and enforced.”
“Politics isn’t going to stop,” added Weintraub, a Democrat. “Fundraising isn’t going to stop.”
As presidential appointees, Weintraub and the three other current members of the commission cannot be furloughed. They also aren’t getting paid, she said.
During a government shutdown in 2013, Chinese hackers broke into the FEC’s computer networks. The agency’s IT staff had been furloughed, leaving the agency vulnerable to attack.
This week, nine Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee wrote to Weintraub to express concern about the shutdown and ask what steps the agency had taken to prevent another cyberattack on the FEC’s computer systems.
In a phone interview with CNN on Thursday, Weintraub said the agency’s key technology staffers remain on the job this time around – albeit without pay – to guard against another attack.
“I feel reasonably confident that we are in good shape on that,” she said. “We need to protect FEC property and the data that is part of what we do.”
The FEC cannot extend the legal deadlines for candidates and other committees to file reports with the agency. But officials are granting some leeway to those who might miss their deadlines, promising not to levy any fines on late reports, as long as they are filed within 24 hours of the FEC reopening.