Bush Ousts Republican Who Stood up to McCain on Campaign Finance Rules

Late May 6, as the world concentrated on the results of the Democratic primary, White House chief of Staff Joshua Bolten sent a letter in response to a suggestion from Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that Mr. Bush restart the nominating process for the Federal Elections Commision.

Reid has long proposed holding separate, simple majority votes on each nominee because of Democratic opposition to von Spakovsky. In submitting a slate including one new Democrat and two new Republicans, Mr. Bush ditched Federal Elections Commision Chairman David Mason, who had informed John McCain that he needed to await a quorum for the commission’s approval before withdrawing from federal campaign financing and to explain the terms of a loan he obtained before his victory in the primaries.

At the same time, Mr. Bush stayed the course with his renonimation of Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official, whom Democrats oppose for his leadership in voter ID measures in Georgia. Von Spakovsky failed to win approval for his first nomination, but recieved a recess-appointment which expired at the end of 2007. Mr. Bush resubmitted his name and had previously refused to submit other nominees, thus leaving the commission unable to conduct business during this election year, since it lacked a quorum.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said,

We would accept a vote on the entire package or up or down votes on each
nomination.

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) , however, has been unwilling to allow an up-or down vote and has blamed Democrats for

the bottleneck created by the Democrats’ opposition to one
well-qualified nominee.


In addition to not being able to handle Mr. McCain’s case, the FEC has been unable to hand out money, which may have affected the timing of Democrat John Edwards’s departure from the race. The FEC also has been unable to issue regulations on candidate air travel or on lobbyist fundraisers and joint advertising by national parties and federal candidates.

Besides von Spakovsky, Mr. Bush’s other nominees are:

  • Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, a lawyer who serves as Charles Schumer (D-NY) legislative director
  • Republican Caroline Hunter, a former White House official current serving on the Election Assistance Commission, and
  • Republican Donald McGahn, once served as an attorney for former majority leader Tom DeLay and as counsel for the National Republican Congressional Campaign.

At Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s request, current commissioner, Democrat Ellen Weintraub, will remain on the commission. Democrat Steven Walther, like von Spakovsky, still awaits confirmation. Democrat Robert Lenhard withdrew from the nomination process during the impasse.

*

I last wrote about the Federal Elections Commission in January on the 31st in Just why did John Edwards drop out of the race yesterday? and on the 9th in Latest Nomination Dispute Stalls FEC. In looking at the current coverage of the nominations, some reporters seem to have buried the news. AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn, in “Bush makes nominations to FEC, seeks to break deadlock, “ leads off with

President Bush sent the Senate a new slate of Federal Election Commission nominees Tuesday, an attempt to break a Senate confirmation deadlock that was greeted coolly by the Democratic leader.

Only in the fifth paragraph, does he write,

Bush also withdrew the nomination of current FEC Chairman David Mason, who had clashed in the past with like Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

He does include the reaction of Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):

By abandoning Mr. Mason and instead sticking by Mr. von Spakovsky, the White House has abandoned experience and independence for partisan loyalty,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “That is the White House’s choice. It is a regrettable one. Nonetheless, we will work towards the confirmation of the remaining nominees and expect to defeat Mr. von Spakovsky.

Okay, you might argue, Kuhnhenn’s a wire reporter with other stories to file. But how about the Michael Luo at the New York Times, whose “Amid Partisan Standoff, Bush Submits 3 Nominees to Election Commission” starts with

President Bush on Tuesday submitted three new nominees to the Federal Election Commission, a move that could help end a political impasse that has left the agency paralyzed in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.

Luo waits until the sixth paragraph before writing,

But Mr. Bush declined to renominate David Mason, the current Republican chairman of the commission, a move that drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from Democrats and campaign finance watchdogs.

Interestingly, the editorial wrtiers at the Times caught the significance, albeit a day later in “Crippled Election Commission.”

*

Compare the American coverage the Brits in the May 7 Financial Times story, “McCain critic loses role at FEC,” by Stephanie Kirchgaessner. The difference is so startling that I’ve reprinted it in full below, hoping that it is fair use, as this is for educational puroses from which I derive no profit.

The Bush administration has sidelined a federal official who raised legal
questions about whether John McCain, Republican senator, could raise private
funds in his presidential bid.

The White House late on Tuesday nominated Donald McGahn, who once served as an attorney for former majority leader Tom DeLay, to replace David Mason, a fellow Republican, as the chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
Mr Mason raised hackles in some Republican circles early this year when, in response to a query by Mr McCain’s campaign, he questioned the legality of a decision by the campaign to withdraw from the public financing system during the Republican primary.

The move to replace Mr Mason drew scrutiny from Democrats and public advocates who yesterday accused the administration of throwing Mr Mason “under a bus” in order to protect the presumptive Republican nominee for the White House.

“President Bush’s dumping of Mason can only be viewed as a bald-faced
and brazen attempt to wrongly manipulate an important enforcement decision
by the nation’s campaign finance enforcement agency,” said Fred Wertheimer,
president of Democracy 21, a non-profit group that tracks money in politics.

Ken Gross, an attorney at Skadden Arps in Washington, said Mr Mason, having ruffled feathers over issues involving Mr McCain’s presidential funding, had become a “victim” of the political machinations between the White House and Democrats in the Senate. The White House said it would not comment on how personnel decisions were made but that the president “appreciated” Mr Mason’s service.

The nomination was part of an effort by the White House to end a congressional impasse that has brought the campaign finance watchdog to a standstill. Since December the FEC, a six-member bipartisan agency, has lacked a quorum that would allow it to issue advisory opinions on campaign finance issues or to initiate investigations into candidates who may be violating campaign finance rules.

The congressional stand-off is centred on the stalled nomination of the Republican
Hans von Spakovsky, a former attorney at the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, whose nomination Democrats have vowed to reject.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican minority leader, said the White House had accommodated a request by Democratic majority leader Harry Reid by offering enough nominees for a full slate at the FEC.

As I write this at 7:50 on May 8, a google news search show 148 stories. Tomorrow, if I have time I’ll analyze the resst of the coverage.

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