Money and Democracy

Published — August 13, 2015 Updated — October 21, 2015 at 3:18 pm ET

Federal Election Commission finally names top lawyer — sort of

Daniel Petalas to serve as acting general counsel while search continues


After 767 days without anyone leading its legal department, the Federal Election Commission has a new top lawyer.

Sort of.

Daniel A. Petalas, associate general counsel for enforcement, will serve a 120-day stint as the FEC’s acting general counsel following a unanimoius vote by the agency’s six commissioners. His temporary appointment is effective Aug. 24.

The decision ends a protracted stalemate among the commissioners — three Republican and three Democratic appointees — who’ve gone without anyone leading their legal department since former general counsel Tony Herman resigned on July 5, 2013.

The FEC is charged with regulating and enforcing the nation’s campaign finance laws.

Chairwoman Ann Ravel, a Democrat, acknowledged being “surprised” that the often ideologically divided commissioners finally reached an agreement to name an acting general counsel.

Why now?

“Daniel has earned the confidence of all the members of the commission for his presentation of legal issues,” Ravel said.

In a statement Thursday, FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican, called Petalas “a highly skilled lawyer” who is likely to “excel in this capacity.”

Petalas has supervised the FEC’s work on potential federal campaign finance violations since 2012. He previously worked 10 years for the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney in its public integrity section.

A vote to appoint Petalas acting general counsel took place Tuesday during a closed-door meeting of the body, not during a public session.

Ravel said the vote was not conducted publicly because it involved an internal personnel matter.

Commissioners, Ravel said, also agreed Tuesday to actively recruit a permanent general counsel — an effort that had been tabled during most of this year. Both internal and external candidates will be considered, she said.

The FEC will also seek to this year fill two other high-level vacancies in its general counsel office, which oversees enforcement, litigation and policy matters, among its various responsibilities.

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