A commissioner on the Federal Election Commission addressed Congress on Wednesday, claiming the agency is attacking the free speech of U.S. citizens.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) was created to serve as an independent agency of the U.S. government tasked with enforcing campaign finance laws.
However, when FEC Commissioner James “Trey” Trainor addressed the U.S. House Committee on Administration last week, he claimed the agency “has become a weapon.”
“To those who have been paying attention, the problem is stark: it’s the growing weaponization of the apparatuses of government to harass and hinder the political participation of our citizenry in the democratic processes,” said Trainor.
He pointed to an agreement between the FEC and the Department of Justice (DOJ), which allows the FEC to share information about investigations with the DOJ.
Such an agreement “brings the commission squarely into the fold of executive agencies that routinely share information amongst themselves,” Trainor said.
“… Members of the public interacting with the Commission are not given notice that their interactions are memorialized by bureaucrats and could become the basis of a criminal investigation by another law enforcement agency,” he added.
During his address, Trainor referenced an FEC investigation into Derek Utley, a man who created an anonymous Facebook page called “Elect Trump 2020.” Utley spent a total of $483 on advertising.
The investigation began after a “poorly sourced news article” claimed Utley spent $34,000 on “shady Facebook ads,” which prompted left-leaning watchdog group Common Cause to file a complaint, said Trainor.
Such complaints allow for citizens to be brought before federal bodies so that the latter can determine whether their civic participation fell in line with any laws governing free speech, according to the Texas Scorecard.
Reactions from Congress were split following Trainor’s address.
Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) disagreed and said she was “disturbed” that anonymous speech is protected by the Constitution. Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) agreed with Trainor and said he has concerns about the weaponization of other agencies as well, according to the Texas Scorecard.
“[T]he current headlines about the criminal prosecution of political actors reflect a trend that is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the Commission has become part of that problem,” Trainor claimed.