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Senate Should Reject Appointment of von Spakovsky to the FEC

June 13, 2007

Senate Should Reject Appointment of von Spakovsky to the FEC

Recess Appointment Shows That Elections Agency Needs Overhaul, Appointments Must Be Scrutinized

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today called on the Senate to reject the appointment of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and resume consideration of legislation to fundamentally restructure the elections agency.

Von Spakovsky has been in the job since 2006 because of a recess appointment, meaning that he was named to the post while Congress was not in session, so there has been neither congressional scrutiny nor approval of his appointment. He has come under fire for a long history of work allegedly undermining the voting rights of minorities.

In an unprecedented five-page, single-spaced letter sent this week to the Senate Rules Committee, several top former career officials in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Voting Rights Section complained that, during his career at DOJ, von Spakovsky was a partisan political appointee whose mission was to derail voting rights actions, and that he intimidated DOJ staff who wanted to pursue voting rights actions and hired staff based on partisan affiliations. The letter strongly suggests that von Spakovsky is unqualified to serve on the commission of an elections agency.

“Von Spakovsky was instrumental in providing pre-clearance to a discriminatory voter ID requirement in Georgia, derailed an investigation of a biased Minnesota rule invalidating tribal ID cards at voting polls and supported Tom DeLay’s partisan redistricting in Texas,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “All of these actions are designed to subvert the voting rights of minorities and are absolutely unacceptable credentials for an elections officer.”

The Georgia voter ID law was widely criticized for potentially disenfranchising up to 200,000 African-Americans and was invalidated by the courts. DeLay’s Texas gerrymandering plan was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“None of the current members of the FEC are serving terms for which they were nominated,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Three of these members were appointed during congressional recess, so they have never been voted upon by the Senate. This is a critical agency that assures we can hold ‘free’ elections with adequate enforcement of campaign finance rules. It requires substantially more oversight by Congress and the public.”

Traditionally, appointees to the FEC are favorites of the party leadership in Congress. Recently, many of the appointees have had a track record of opposing the federal election law that they are supposed to implement and enforce as an FEC commissioner. Von Spakovsky is only the latest of many appointees – such as former Commissioner Brad Smith and current FEC Chairman Robert Lenhard – who opposed key elements of the law entrusted to them.

“As a six-member agency – three Democrats and three Republicans – appointed based on partisanship and with little oversight, the FEC is designed to fail,” said Craig Holman, lobbyist for Public Citizen. “Many lawmakers would rather see an impotent elections agency than one that advocates for fair and clean elections.”

Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), have introduced legislation (S. 478 and H.R. 421) that would abolish the current FEC and replace it with a more effective nonpartisan Federal Election Administration. Public Citizen strongly supports this measure.