Skip Navigation

Gone Von Spakovsky, Enter McGahn

Late Friday, a letter sent from Federal Election Commission (FEC) nominee Hans von Spakovsky to the White House officially withdrawing his name…

  • Laura MacCleery
May 20, 2008

Cross-posted from the Huff­ing­ton Post

Von Spakovsky

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 re-nomin­at­ing 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, whoa 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.