Did Mike Pence Just Register With the FEC to Take on 'Don the Con' in 2020?

Vice President Pence Visits The New York City Police Department
(L-R) New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill looks on as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks a meet and greet with NYPD officers and personnel at NYPD headquarters on September 19, 2019 in New York City. Pence was recently registered to run in 2020 for the Republican nomination through a fake Federal Election Comission filing. Drew Angerer/Getty

Did Vice President Mike Pence just register with the FEC to take on "Don the Con" in 2020? The answer, of course, is no. But that hasn't stopped one unknown political activist from registering a 2020 campaign committee under the vice president's name.

On Monday, preliminary steps were taken to register Vice President Mike Pence with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and incorporate his would-be 2020 campaign, entitled "Its high time for Don the Con to do the Perp walk."

The vice president's official residence at One Observatory Circle in Washington, D.C., was listed as the campaign's principal offices.

While a Pence ascent to the White House has been the subject of much speculation over the years, it is highly unlikely that a committee with this name, fictitiously filed, will serve as that vehicle.

In a note adjoined to the registration, the filer included a message for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has recently acted a firewall against insurgent calls within her party for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

"Nancy: Please impeach the fat d*****b** con-man punk drooling orange blob.... after embarrassing him for his obvious mental illnesses," the filer wrote. "I mean if you don't do it I'll have to invoke the 25th Amendment!"

The FEC has recently been dogged by facetious filings, often the work of trolls or political protesters looking to stir up controversy. In 2016, just months ahead of the presidential election, the agency had to adopt new interim rules in order to manage the influx of fake registrations.

"The new procedure comes in response to an increase this election cycle in the filing of registration and statement of candidacy forms (FEC Forms 1 and 2) that provide patently false candidate or treasurer names, questionable contact or bank information, or material that does not relate to campaign finance, such as drawings, essays and personal court records," the FEC announced at the time. "The Commission has authorized staff to send verification letters to filers listing fictional characters, obscene language, sexual references, celebrities (where there is no indication that the named celebrity submitted the filing), animals, or similarly implausible entries as the name or contact information of the candidate or committee."

Some notable entries include the widely reported presidential campaigns of "Deez Nuts," "Sydney Voluptuous Buttocks" and "Crawfish B. Crawfish," of course, of the Louisiana Crawfish political dynasty. Nuisance campaigns generally don't cause much of a headache for the FEC. While the agency is stymied from conducting much of its oversight due to the lack of a full quorum on the commission, staff attorneys are generally empowered to send preliminary letters to fake candidates asking them to withdraw their submissions.

Vice President Pence Delivers Remarks At White House Naturalization Ceremony
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence concludes his remarks during a naturalization ceremony September 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty

"The FEC has a process where they flag seemingly false or fictitious registrations and give the filer an opportunity to withdraw or fix it," Erin Chlopak, director of campaign finance strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, told Newsweek. "I'm not aware of penalties usually being assessed for this sort of thing. I think the problem is just corrected when there's the threat of a consequence."

Chlopak, who was an FEC lawyer from 2009 to 2018, said that instances such as these, which the agency comes across often, don't often themselves rise to the level of conduct that would implicate a criminal referral.

It is a crime under federal law to make materially false statements to the government, which would encompass false FEC filings. The penalty for violations includes fines and a potential prison term. In the case of the fake Pence committee, such a registration could also implicate a separate federal law which prohibits electoral candidates from misrepresenting themselves. While the FEC is empowered by law to refer violations to law enforcement agencies, actions involving apparently trivial matters such as facetious reports are not a priority.

In late August, one of the FEC's last remaining commissioners, Republican Matthew Petersen, resigned from the agency, leaving it with a lack of quorum and largely unable to conduct official business. Any more serious violations of the false filings statute would have to be adjudicated through the full commission, which is for all intents and purposes defunct. Chlopak believed that it is this less conspicuous development, the hollowing out of the nation's premier election oversight body, which may present a genuine crisis of confidence in the integrity of the electoral system.

"The lack of quorum is devastating, particularly as we go into a highly contentious presidential election," she said. "Having the agency charged with enforcing the nation's campaign finance laws be completely unable to provide guidance or issue new regulations, and to enforce violations of the law, it is a huge problem. There's widely reported anticipation of threats, and not only from Russia, in the upcoming presidential election. We need the president to fill the vacancy and restore the quorum."

Judith Ingram, a spokesperson for the FEC, described to Newsweek the process for enforcing violations and how the commission's current status presents an insurmountable hurdle to any official action.

"As the verification procedure and manual indicate, false and fictitious filers can be referred to the Commission's Office of General Counsel for enforcement," Ingram said in a written statement. "The Commission currently does not have the necessary quorum of four Commissioners to vote on enforcement matters but the Office of General Counsel continues to process new complaints and responses and to investigate matters previously authorized by the Commission."

The Office of the Vice President did not respond to a request for comment.