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Photo: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call

The U.S. agency charged with administering the public financing of presidential campaigns doesn't have enough board members to distribute tens of millions of dollars collected for that purpose.

Why it matters: It's the first time since the program started in 1976 that there aren't enough commissioners to approve public funding applications.

Details: The Federal Election Commission needs a quorum of four to review and approve applications for public funding, but it currently only has three.

  • There's no indication of when President Trump will name up to three replacements. The White House declined a request for comment.
  • The FEC is encouraging candidates who seek to use public financing to apply “in the expectation that once a quorum is reestablished the requests will be considered expeditiously,” spokesperson Judith Ingram said.
  • The only Democratic primary candidate who had expressed interest in tapping public campaign funding, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, dropped out on Dec. 2.

How it works: Candidates seeking the nomination of a major political party are eligible to get up to $250 per individual contribution matched by the public funds, according to FEC rules.

  • Candidates have to raise more than $5,000 in each of at least 20 states with contributions of up to $250. That's at least 20 donors in each state.
  • Candidates who agree to take public funds must agree to limit their state-by-state spending to an amount the FEC authorizes and allow the commission to audit their books.
  • In 2016, that limit was just over $48 million for the primary election and $96 million for the general elections — a total of $144 million.
  • As a point of comparison, Hillary Clinton's campaign spent $565 million for the primary and general election, nearly four times the public funding limit.
  • Donald Trump spent $322 million, more than double the limit.

The odds: Public funding, for better or for worse, has come to be seen by many in politics as sort of a Hail Mary for struggling campaigns. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley used it in 2016 in a last-ditch effort to keep up with Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

  • John Edwards' 2008 campaign manager, Joe Trippi, said it was "effectively the end" of O'Malley's campaign, per BuzzFeed News. Edwards used public funds in his 2008 run.
  • "No campaign that is serious can win taking that money," Trippi said.
  • Trippi recently told Axios he still thinks that's the case.

Go deeper: FEC effectively shuts down after key resignation

Go deeper

Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

16 mins ago - Politics & Policy

President Joe Biden vows to be “a president for all Americans”

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden sought to sooth a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, but warned that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

The big picture: Moments after taking the oath of office, Biden spoke on the Capitol’s West front, from the very steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier. They were attempting to overturn an election where Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes.

Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.