No matter that Shana Broussard wasn’t certain what lawyers did, say nothing of how to spell the word.Â
Broussard, then 4 years old, declared while doodling in a family memory book that she’d become one â€” the kind who helped people like her Air Force sergeant father and English teacher mother.Â
Become a lawyer she would. And this month, in the most notable step of her public legal service career, Broussard, a Democrat, became the first Black commissioner in the Federal Election Commission’s 45-year history.Â
Among her new commission colleagues’ first acts: voting Broussard commission chair for 2021.
Symbolically, Broussard told Insider that her appointment provides “encouragement that this is not an exclusive process for only some, but that the electoral process is open for all.”Â
“The agency that promotes transparency should be led by people that represent and make themselves available to the public that they serve,” she added.
Practically, Broussard aims to bring composure, compromise, and common purpose to the often fractious, six-member commission, which is empowered to enforce and regulate the nation’s campaign finance laws but often deadlocks when faced with critical decisions.
Broussard’s most urgent task: helping a newly reconstituted FEC emerge from a brutal 15 months in political purgatory.Â
Save for a few weeks in June and July, the independent, bipartisan body charged with policing federal campaign money didn’t have enough commissioners to conduct high-level business. It couldn’t complete investigations, issue fines, or pass new rules â€” all while federal political committees pumped an estimated $14 billion into Election 2020, obliterating past spending totals.
A backlog of about 400 enforcement cases now awaits Broussard and her colleagues. On January 14, Broussard will preside over the agency’s first public meeting in seven months.
Bring it on, she said.
“I am a fair person. I’m a hardworking person. I’m committed to the mission,” Broussard said. “And I’m committed to making sure that I do the best that I can and seek guidance when I need it.”
Those who know Broussard say they don’t dare doubt her.
Born on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Broussard’s military family lived in several states, uprooting and moving whenever duty called them.
All the while, as the middle sister of two brothers, Broussard developed an acute sense of family justice.
“If you were trying to get away with something, you made sure you didn’t do it around her,” joked Juan Broussard, an architect near Dallas and Broussard’s older brother. “So, yeah, while she kept you on your toes, we also knew our sister was something special.”
Broussard’s father retired in the late 1980s as a master sergeant and moved the family to Louisiana the summer before her high school senior year.Â
She took to her new state and enrolled at Dillard University, an historically Black college in New Orleans, where in 1991 she graduated with a political science degree. She then trekked 80 miles west to Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge to chase her childhood dream of attorneydom, ultimately earning a juris doctorate with honors.
There at Southern University, Broussard showed “she had the grit and determination to succeed and compete at any level and become a true lawyer-leader,” said John Pierre, the school’s chancellor who as a young law professor in 1992 taught Broussard’s second-year class on partnerships, powers of attorney, and limited liability companies.Â
Broussard’s college years, she said, “helped me become the person that I am.”Â
They also steeled her resolve to practice law in the public interest â€” and certainly not for some white-shoe firm commanding massive paydays from high-end clients.
Shana Broussard graduated in 1991 from Dillard University in New Orleans, an historically Black college she credits with setting her on a path toward becoming a lawyer â€” and now, the nation’s top campaign finance official.
Josh Brasted/Getty Images
Prosecuting violent crimes in New Orleans
Her legal resume grew quickly.Â
She first clerked at a local court in Shreveport, soon advancing to clerk for Louisiana’s state appellate court.Â
After a brief stop at a private firm â€” “not for me,” she said â€” Broussard worked for five years in early- to mid-2000s as an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, tackling a massive portfolio of violent crime cases, from armed robbery to murder.
Broussard served as the deputy disciplinary counsel with the state bar in Louisiana, and also joined the Louisiana Department of Justice’s gaming division for 1 Â½ years.Â
The gaming work, while important, wasn’t nearly as demanding as Broussard preferred. And she has “always wanted to come to DC and felt like there were some other opportunities for me” outside of her adopted state.
So she left, moving to the nation’s capital in 2007.Â
Broussard first worked as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which is charged with ensuring tax professionals “adhere to professional standards and follow the law.”Â
In 2008, she joined the FEC, first in the enforcement division of the Office of General Counsel, investigating cases of potential campaign finance violations by political committees and actors.Â
Then, from 2015 until this month, she’s served as a staff attorney for FEC Commissioner Steven Walther, a left-leaning independent who first became a commissioner in 2006 and remains a member.
Broussard quickly established herself as “a fine legal mind” with “deep knowledge of the workings of the FEC,” Walther said.
Several other current and former FEC commissioners concurred.
“Professional, genuine, and substantive,” is how Republican Lee Goodman, who served on the FEC commission from 2013 to 2018, described Broussard.
“She was not given to personality clashes, reflective in part of her own friendly demeanor,” Goodman said. “That will be important to the functionality of the commission because sharp divergences in philosophical approaches have been known to break down into personal animosities, hampering the ability of commissioners to reach substantive compromises.”
Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat who’s served on the commission since 2002, offered Broussard a string of superlatives: “even-keeled,” “open-minded,” “no-nonsense,” “kind.”
“And she already knows every case on the docket. Plus she knows the law inside out,” Weintraub said. “Her presence will be incredibly helpful.”
Said Ann Ravel, a Democratic FEC commissioner from 2013 to 2017: “She’s not going to be seen in any way as an ideological extremist or just taking partisan positions. She’s as straightforward and thoughtful as you’ll find.”Â
The Federal Election Commission’s chambers in Washington, DC, were largely empty for the past 16 months, as the agency didn’t have enough commissioners to conduct high-level business â€” or even public meetings.
Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call via Getty
A long, slow road that paid off
For nearly two years, however, Broussard’s path to leading the FEC appeared to at best be blocked â€” and hurtling toward a dead-end at worst.
As 2019 began, the FEC teetered on losing its quorum of four commissioners. Officials from the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, asked Broussard if she’d be interested in a potential promotion to the agency’s commissioner ranks.
“I thought, ‘why not me?'” Broussard said. “I work for the commissioner. I see how this agency runs, and I’m committed to it. And I like the work that we do. And while I’m quite used to and comfortable being a person behind the scenes, I thought, ‘it’s time to take the shot,’ as they would say.”
Broussard’s interest established, Schumer asked the White House that President Donald Trump consider nominating Broussard to a vacant FEC commissioner slot.
Since the FEC is by statute a bipartisan body, sitting presidents, regardless of their own partisan affiliations, routinely nominate Democrats and Republicans to the agency.
But Trump didn’t heed Schumer’s advice. Nor did the president appoint anyone else to fill vacant FEC seats.
The FEC finally lost its quorum in September 2019, after Commissioner Matthew Petersen, a Republican, resigned to enter private practice. The agency, established in the Nixon-era Watergate scandal’s wake, immediately entered what would become the darkest period of its history, its major regulatory powers frozen as the 2020 campaign trudged toward Election Day.
Broussard waited. And waited. She could have pulled out of consideration, but soldiered on. Finally, days before the November 3 vote, Trump nominated her, along with Republicans Allen Dickerson and Sean Cooksey, to join commissioners Walther, Weintraub, and Republican Trey Trainor on the FEC.Â
The Senate confirmed the three new nominees in early December, with Broussard receiving a nearly unanimous vote, 92-4. (Republicans Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Rick Scott of Florida cast “no” votes.)
One person who’s not at all shocked Broussard would see such a protracted process through is Madinah Hamidullah.
Hamidullah doesn’t know Broussard professionally. But earlier this year, they became long-distance bike partners through “Black Girl Magic: The Peloton Edition,” a group for fitness-minded women using the popular home cycling system. Broussard is often up at 6 a.m. for intense riding sessions â€” sometimes three or four a week.Â Â
“She sets a plan. She sticks with it. She hits the goal,” said Hamidullah, a public policy professor at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey.
Broussard is no less dedicated to her less sweaty pursuits, said Jameece Pinckney, the immediate past president of the Northern Virginia alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., which supports and engages in a variety of community services.Â Â
As the chapter’s 2nd vice president from 2018 to 2019, Broussard was “the one pulling the long night hours, staying up to 11:59 p.m. to meet a midnight deadline â€” she just gets it done,” Pinckney said.
“She will set the example for others to follow,” added Karen Rosser, another Delta Sigma Theta member.
‘Symbolic and historic’
At the FEC, Broussard’s leadership will immediately stand apart.
There have been 33 other FEC commissioners since Congress formed the six-seat, bipartisan agency as an elixir to the political money scandals of Watergate.
Until now, all of the agency’s commissioners have been white. Most have been men. Many came from privilege, forging their careers in the crucible of federal politics or policy before winning a presidential appointment to the FEC.
This lack of diversity has long rankled career FEC staffers, who earlier this year were fed up enough to petition Trump and the US Senate to “rectify a historical blindness to the benefits ccommissioners of diverse backgrounds and experiences can bring to the agency staff, to its mission, and to the nation.”
It’s unclear whether the letter provided impetus, but in late October, Trump nominated Broussard to the FEC â€” just days before voters would elect Sen. Kamala Harris of California as the first Black vice president of the United States.
Broussard says she’s humbled and grateful. “I did not anticipate ever being in this position,” she said. “Definitely not when I stepped in the doors and even when I joined Mr. Walthers staff six years ago.”
But now that she is, she says she’s ready to tackle the agency’s daunting workload and buttress the commission’s other responsibilities, such as ensuring political committees’ fundraising and spending data is processed and published properly.Â
She’ll also be at the helm of an agency that many Democrats in Congress want to remake and strengthen.
Several of Broussard’s friends and colleagues used a variation of the same phrase to describe her appointment: “A long time coming.”Â
Arguably, it’s been coming since a four-year-old girl, growing up in the 1970s and writing in her memory book, said she’d one day become a “L-A-W-E-R.”
“Remember, the Federal Election Commission was formed just 10 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and you think of all the work for equality of John Lewis and Martin Luther King who risked their lives, and Viola Lewis who lost her life,” said Pierre, the Southern University Law Center chancellor. “Shana’s appointment is symbolic and historic, and she’s a shining example of what someone can do when we invest in people.”