Nobody does compromise quite like the Bush administration.
If you’re a regular reader of TPM, you’re familiar with Hans von Spakovsky and in particular, Spakovsky’s remarkable track record at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. It is because of that record — one of ignoring, marginalizing, and intimidating career lawyers in order to institute restrictive voting laws all over the country, a pattern amounting to “institutional sabotage” as one former career attorney there put it — that Senate Democrats (Barack Obama and Russ Feingold in particular) opposed his nomination to the Federal Election Commission.
Spakovsky was one of four nominees — two Dems and two GOPers — to the commission. The other three were uncontroversial. Senate Republicans insisted that all nominees be voted on together, and the Democrats objected: Spakovsky would have to get his own vote. The Republicans refused, and there things have stood for more than four months. Without the necessary number of commissioners, the FEC has essentially shut down.
It is a problem that has a relatively simple solution: if the White House were to submit another nominee, that nominee would more than likely be quickly confirmed without much trouble.
Instead, the Bush administration proposed something different yesterday.
Spakovsky remains a nominee. Instead, the administration has submitted a new nominee to replace the current chairman, David Mason. Mason is one of the only two seated commissioners, and it just so happens that he’s been creating a whole lot of trouble for John McCain lately.
In February, the McCain campaign notified the FEC that it was withdrawing from the public financing system for the primary. Although McCain had once opted in, his campaign said that it had never received public funds and so could opt out. The move meant that McCain would not be bound by the $54 million spending limit for the system.
But Mason balked. McCain couldn’t just opt out — the FEC had to approve his request before he could. And Mason also indicated that a tricky bank loan might mean that McCain had locked himself in to the system. That would be disastrous for the campaign, since the Dem nominee would have a tremendous spending advantage through August. So McCain’s campaign has continued to spend away, far surpassing the limit already. The Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the FEC and has also taken the matter to court.
And now Mason is getting the boot.
So where’s the compromise, exactly? A White House spokeswoman tells The New York Times that Republicans are now willing to have a separate vote for Spakovsky. Whether that actually is the case, we shall see. If so, that means Democrats will have the chance to actually vote down Spakovsky once and for all.
But there is no shortage of cynicism about the White House’s move. As Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 put it: “The only apparent reason for President Bush to drop Commissioner David Mason at this stage, an FEC candidate he had twice proposed for the Commission, is to prevent him from casting an adverse vote against Senator McCain on important enforcement questions pending at the Commission. The questions deal with Senator McCain’s request to withdraw from the presidential primary public financing system and the consequences of a loan the McCain campaign took out and the collateral provided for the loan.”