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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden is being encouraged to effectively pack the nation's top campaign finance regulator with officials who will more doggedly enforce laws regulating political money, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The notoriously gridlocked Federal Election Commission has rankled reformers for years. Now some are pushing Biden to abandon protocol by sidestepping congressional Republicans and nominating regulators who will more aggressively enforce campaign finance rules.

What's new: A three-page memo, shared with officials in the White House and obtained by Axios, details a strategy for effectively remaking the FEC.

  • The memo's author, a prominent voice in the campaign finance reform world, provided it to Axios on the condition of anonymity and said it was shared with White House staff last month.

How it would work: By law, the six-member FEC can have no more than three commissioners from either major political party.

  • In its current form, though, it technically has just two Democrats. A third member, Commissioner Steven Walther, is widely considered a Democrat-aligned vote but technically an independent.
  • One of two new Republican commissioners, Sean Cooksey, was confirmed in December to a term expiring at the end of April.
  • Biden could, the memo argues, nominate a true Democrat to replace Cooksey, effectively giving the commission a four-member "pro-enforcement majority" while staying within the three-member party limit.

What they're saying: "The president has an immediate and unilateral opportunity to establish a solid and enduring pro-enforcement governing majority," the memo says.

  • Doing so, it adds, will require "bypassing informal and disadvantageous appointment norms" — and is sure to draw the wrath of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McConnell has long championed less-aggressive campaign finance enforcement.

  • The protocol establishes that presidents consult with the Senate leaders of both parties and nominate FEC commissioners based on their recommendations. Enacting a proposal such as this would blow up that precedent.
  • "All these options represent a serious provocation to Sen. McConnell," the memo warns. "But if President Biden is serious about having campaign finance law enforced during his administration, he must be willing to cross Sen. McConnell one way or another."

The bottom line: It's not clear whether, or how seriously, Biden and his staff are considering the proposal.

  • The White House has backed sweeping election reform legislation that would remake the FEC entirely, but its prospects in the Senate are questionable.
  • Packing the FEC would likely face similar Senate hurdles, particularly in light of McConnell's vehement opposition.
  • The White House declined comment.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.