Bush Slate of Nominees to FEC Is Anything but a Compromise; Conflict Over FEC Appointments Likely to Continue

May 7, 2008 

Bush Slate of Nominees to FEC Is Anything but a Compromise; Conflict Over FEC Appointments Likely to Continue

Statement of Craig Holman, Campaign Finance Lobbyist for Public Citizen

The slate of nominees for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that the Bush administration sent to the Senate on Tuesday night is anything but a compromise. In fact, the highly partisan and politically charged choices are likely to perpetuate the stalemate that has effectively shut down the FEC since January.

President Bush is calling for the replacement of sitting Republican Commissioner David Mason with Don McGahn, a steadfast Republican Party loyalist who served as general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in October 2002 when that committee attempted to sidestep federal law banning “soft money” in federal elections. McGahn also was ethics lawyer for former Rep. Tom DeLay, who resigned from Congress under criminal indictment.

Mason, who expected to continue serving his FEC term, has questioned the legality of Republican presidential candidate John McCain securing a loan by allegedly using the promise of public funds as collateral and then pulling out of the public financing program.

Meanwhile, Bush wants to keep controversial nominee Hans von Spakovsky, who has become a lightning rod of controversy following public disclosures that he participated in an administration campaign that would have disproportionately disenfranchised low-income and minority voters. Many Senate Democrats have refused to appoint von Spakovsky to the elections agency.

The Bush slate proposes the nomination of three Democrats as requested by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – Ellen Weintraub, Cynthia Bauerly (assistant to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)) and Steven Walther – and three Republicans, Caroline Hunter (former White House official and currently a commissioner on the Election Assistance Commission), McGahn and von Spakovsky.

Appointment of six commissioners to the FEC has been held up by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell has objected to Reid’s suggestion that each of the nominees be confirmed separately, which probably would result in the Senate rejecting von Spakovsky. The White House now suggests that it would not object to a separate vote on each nominee. If Republican congressional leaders were to allow separate votes, the result likely would be confirmation of a five-member commission, with McGahn and Hunter providing a two-member Republican voting bloc.

A five-member commission would provide a sufficient quorum to certify public financing for the presidential campaigns, especially for the cash-starved McCain campaign, which is desperate to break the Republican logjam and get the FEC up and running again. However, a five-member commission would allow the two-member Republican bloc to easily tie up any further actions by the agency because any formal action by the FEC requires approval of four commissioners.

Bush’s proposal is not a compromise – it is a prescription to promote the Republican presidential candidacy and the Bush administration’s ideological agenda. The maneuver appears primarily designed to help McCain get public financing while tying up the commission on implementing the rest of the campaign finance law, such as the new-and-yet-unenforced law requiring disclosure of bundling activity by lobbyists. When it comes to fair and balanced enforcement of our nation’s election laws, the FEC should be above such sharp and self-serving partisanship. The FEC must be a full, six-member commission to help dilute partisan voting blocs, and the appointees should be people of integrity, committed to implementing and enforcing federal campaign finance laws rather than undermining them.