Late Friday, a letter sent from Federal Election Commission (FEC) nominee Hans von Spakovsky to the White House officially withdrawing his name from consideration was made public. This is undoubtedly good news as the election season kicks into high gear, and will help to assure that the FEC will be restored to its previous, albeit minimal, functionality.
Von Spakovsky's nomination was opposed by civil rights and good government groups due to his frightening record of partisan witch-hunts and voter suppression while in the Voting Division at the Justice Department. Democrats had been insisting on an up-or-down vote for each of the nominees, including von Spakovsky, a former Bush campaign staffer and GOP operative.
Von Spakovsky was the antithesis of the kind of person needed at the Commission, which is charged with the fair and non-partisan administration of campaign finance law. The FEC has been unable to make decisions at the commission level for months, as the triangular nomination standoff between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House continued. While the White House had indicated that an up-or-down vote was acceptable, McConnell, who is no friend of the FEC, appeared to be holding firm in insisting on a vote on the full slate of candidates.
As Sen. Reid wrote in a letter to the White House Monday, the two options were to convince Republicans to allow the vote or ask von Spakovsky to withdraw. Knowing McConnell, it's no surprise that the second option was more easily accomplished.
A statement from Sen. Reid indicated that von Spakovsky's "withdrawal today is a victory for our electoral process. With Mr. von Spakovsky now removed, I anticipate that we will be able to swiftly put a functioning FEC in place. That too is what the American people deserve."
There's something for everybody in the deal. A functioning FEC should help to clarify the legal consequences of Sen. John McCain's decision to reject public funds for the presidential primary, following his reliance on public funding as collateral for a loan in the earlier days of the race. It will also ensure that money from the system is available for McCain in the general election, a fact surely not lost on the White House.
Some are speculating that even with the latest turn of events, the White House will continue to resist renominating Commissioner David Mason, who has publicly questioned the public funding reversal of Sen. McCain's presidential campaign. The apparent political motivation behind White House's aversion to Mason has been decried by many in the reform community, including those who have disagreed with many of Mason's decisions.
There is a committee hearing in the Senate scheduled for May 21st to consider President Bush's latest slate of FEC nominees. And while the country needs an FEC in this election year that will be able to do its job, the committee should take a close look in particular at GOP operative Don McGahn, who a New York Times editorial called a "Republican warhorse." McGahn was in charge of ethics for the ethically dubious former House majority leader Rep. Tom Delay (R.-TX), and served as a high-ranking party official. He is a particularly partisan choice in an election year certain to be filled with highly charged enforcement decisions.
According to the Congressional Quarterly, McGahn was General Counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee in October 2002, when the NRCC initiated a scheme to circumvent a new law banning soft money in federal elections, mere weeks prior to when the law would take effect. The plan involved a transfer of $1 million in soft money from the NRCC to the Leadership Forum, a surrogate group set up by House Republican leaders to spend soft money on the 2004 House races in violation of the new law. The $1 million was returned after the plan became public.
Despite its eagerness to seal the deal quickly, the Senate should fully investigate whether McGahn is an appropriate choice for an enforcement agency.