No End in Sight for FEC Nominee Stalemate

Posted February 29, 2008 at 6:17pm

President Bush and Senate leaders are signaling no compromise is in the works for nearly two dozen agency-level nominations, including four now-vacant Federal Election Commission seats that shuttered the campaign regulator indefinitely after the new year.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore told Roll Call on Friday that the administration remains committed to long-standing GOP demands that FEC nominees Robert Lenhard and Steven Walther — both Democrats — and Republicans Hans von Spakovsky and David Mason all be considered together by the Senate. Individual nominations are not up for consideration, she said — a condition echoed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office on Friday.

“We do believe they should be voted on in a package,” Lawrimore said.

In a letter last week to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reiterated his Conference’s demands that the Senate consider the four FEC picks nominee-by-nominee. The strategy would allow Democrats to exercise their distaste for — and likely doom — White House commission pick von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer and Georgia election official, while preserving the nominations of Walther, a friend of Reid’s, and Lenhard, a prominent union lawyer.

Reid in his letter stressed that Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) no longer stood between Bush and a functioning commission. The four Senators last week clarified with the media that objections to von Spakovsky’s nomination by individual lawmakers should not be misinterpreted as procedural holds.

“At Sen. Reid’s request … I agreed in December to allow a Senate vote on each of the four pending FEC nominations,” Feingold said in a statement on Friday. “As I understand it, Sen. McConnell is blocking those votes. No Democratic Senator has a hold on the von Spakovsky nomination.”

But in his letter, Reid also reminded the White House and Senate Republicans that there is precedent for their approach, going by to Senate approval of Republican nominee Brad Smith and Democrat Danny McDonald in 2000.

“As you know, several Democratic Senators had earlier insisted upon a 60-vote threshold for FEC nominee von Spakovsky,” Reid wrote in his Feb. 28 letter to Bolten. “In a significant concession, those Democratic Senators released all holds in December and indicated they would allow the Senate to proceed by majority vote on each of the nominees.

“Nominees to the FEC have proceeded by individual vote in the past … and Republicans have rejected Democratic selections to this body,” Reid continued. “If Mr. Von Spakovsky cannot win majority support, I have also invited the President to send up a new Republican nominee to replace him. I committed in good faith to quickly review that nomination.”

The six-member commission is two votes short of the quorum needed to hand down fines and provide official guidance to federal candidates. In recent weeks, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has quibbled with the commission over the presidential public financing system, which the Senator may have inadvertently opted into.

But without four commission votes, FEC Chairman Mason told McCain in a letter two weeks ago, the agency cannot provide his campaign with a definitive answer about his fundraising status.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart on Friday disputed how Democrats characterized the deal struck by party leaders eight years ago to permit a vote on former FEC Chairman Smith.

Smith’s and McDonald’s nominations were voted on individually, Stewart said, but only after both sides were certain their nominee would get through — an outcome Reid could easily calculate in von Spakovsky’s case.

“Harry Reid can tell us that — the Majority Leader can say, yes, you’re going to get this vote,” Stewart said. “McConnell’s position is that the Republican nominees and Democratic nominees move. How that comes about is not something he’s talked about.”

Republicans also point to a 2000 floor speech by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to reinforce their point that Democrats are now guilty of the same abuses they accused the GOP of when Republicans wielded power. Plus, Republicans suggest — and Dodd appears to confirm — the panel’s makeup was set to avoid just these types of showdowns.

“My vote in favor of this nomination should not be read as an endorsement of [Brad Smith’s] views. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Dodd said in a May 23, 2000, floor speech. “It is an endorsement of the process that allows our political parties to choose nominees who hold views consistent with their own.”