Why the FEC Deadlock?

The WaPo warns that the FEC is about to “shut down.” Though “375 auditors, lawyers and investigators at the FEC will continue to process work already before them, a variety of matters that fall to the commissioners will be placed on hold indefinitely” because of gridlock over President Bush’s effort to appoint Hans Von Spakofsky to a six year term on the commission. Here’s Dahlia Lithwick on Von Spakofsky:

Von Spakovsky’s Senate confirmation hearing last June was noteworthy for many oddities, not the least of which was a letter sent to the rules committee by six former career professionals in the voting rights section of the Justice Department; folks who had worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations for a period that spanned 36 years. The letter urged the committee to reject von Spakovsky on the grounds that while at DoJ, he was one of the architects of a transformation in the voting rights section from its “historic mission to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws without regard to politics, to pursuing an agenda which placed the highest priority on the partisan political goals of the political appointees who supervised the Section.” The authors named him as the “point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.”

The Lithwick article is worth reading in full, as is the context provided by election law scholar Richard Hasen in Slate stories here and here.

My question is: isn’t there some less controversial nominee than Von Spakofsky? Washington must have a good number of Republican election lawyers who share the president’s priorities and would prove excellent leaders of the Commission.

Meanwhile, the gridlock could imperil the bid of at least one presidential candidate:

When it comes to federal matching funds, Democrat John Edwards has the most to lose. The FEC certified the payment of the first installment of funds this week, including $8.8 million for Edwards. But matching payments for money he has raised this month, or will receive in subsequent months, may have to wait until the FEC has four members.

There is debate among campaign finance lawyers about whether matching funds could be released without a formal commission vote, one Edwards campaign official said. Because the next installment of funds would not arrive until after the early primaries, strategists inside the Edwards campaign said they are not worried.

Another unworried person is a former FEC head, Bradley Smith, interviewed here.

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