Almost immediately after the government shutdown this fall sent critical systems support personnel home, Federal Election Commission systems were hit in what is being described as “the worst act of sabotage in its 38-year history.”

A report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) revealed that the agency had furloughed all 339 agency employees, and that not a single staffer had been deemed “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats,” the threshold that would have allowed key personnel to remain on the job.

“They waylaid the Federal Election Commission’s networks. They crashed computer systems that publicly disclose how billions of dollars are raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees,” according to the CPI report.

“And it happened just months after an independent auditor commissioned by the government warned that the FEC’s information systems were at ‘high risk’ to infiltration — a charge the FEC roundly disputed, saying its ‘systems are secure.’”

In addition to the attack, the CPI’s investigation found that:

  • The commission over the past year has reached a paralyzing all-time low in its ability to reach consensus, stalling action on dozens of rulemaking, audit and enforcement matters, some of which are years old.
  • Despite an explosion in political spending hastened by key Supreme Court decisions, the agency’s funding has remained flat for five years and staffing levels have fallen to a 15-year low.
  • Analysts charged with scouring disclosure reports to ensure candidates and political committees are complying with laws have a nearly quarter-million-page backlog. Commissioners themselves are grappling with nearly 270 unresolved enforcement cases.
  • Staff morale has plummeted as key employees have fled and others question whether their work remains relevant. Among top FEC jobs currently unfilled or filled on an “acting” basis: general counsel, associate general counsel for policy, associate general counsel for litigation, chief financial officer and accounting director. The staff director doubles as IT director.

“As the nation heads into what will undoubtedly be the most expensive midterm election in history and a 2016 presidential election that, in no small way, has already begun, the FEC is rotting from the inside out,” the SPI report concluded.

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