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Posted September 18, 2007 by J. Gerald Hebert

No Deal On von Spakovsky

Roll Call [subscription req.] has a piece today about Senate Democrats’ deal with the devil.

"Senate Democrats are expected to name a top lawyer for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) to fill a vacancy on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), a potentially safe selection that would avoid a brewing showdown with Republicans over a controversial GOP commission pick.

"Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office plans to ask the White House to nominate Cynthia Bauerly, Schumer’s legislative director, to replace Democratic-nominated commissioner Ellen Weintraub, whose term expired last spring. Weintraub has said she will continue to serve on the commission until her successor is confirmed."

Ms. Bauerly may become a fine FEC commissioner, but for reasons we have explained previously, Hans von Spakovsky is unfit to be a poll watcher, let alone one of the six commissioners who regulate our federal elections. 

Senate Democrats know full well the various misdeeds of von Spakovsky, so any decision on their part to hold their nose and confirm him despite such a record is simply inexcusable.  For several years now, the Democratic leadership has been a profile in spinelessness when it comes to the FEC.  It is painfully apparent that leadership sees the FEC as a dumping ground for party apparatchiks who will follow the party line and do no real damage.  They then can blithely reassure themselves that parking von Spakovsky at the FEC will also do no real harm because he will only be one of six commissioners who are evenly split (3 Democratic and 3 Republican appointees).  And this is an agency whose commissioners usually deadlock 3 to 3 on the most important or controversial matters that the agency faces.  Is it any wonder why the campaign finance system continues to disappoint? 

It is well known that the FEC is viewed as a weak agency, and that it was structured by Congress to be slow and ineffective.  Its failure to perform     is due to its structure.  When first created, Members of Congress feared a powerful and effective agency.  As a report (No Bark, No Bite) commissioned by the reform group Democracy 21 noted:

“To ameliorate these fears, Congress structured an agency with a cumbersome enforcement process, an inability to find violations, and a system for deadlocked decision-making on key issues.  To a large degree, Congress designed the FEC to fail as an enforcement agency.”

It is also well known that the agency is composed of commissioners whose appointments are tightly controlled by the Members of Congress and the political parties the FEC regulates.  That Congress has underfunded the agency is further testament to the fact that the legislative branch is quite happy with the way this toothless watchdog has been functioning so ineffectively.

I would argue that the work of the FEC is an area where the interests of the federal government are at their highest point, as they attempt to regulate the body politic and in so doing preserve the integrity and transparency of our elections.  And if Senators on both sides of the aisle were willing to take their partisan hats off for just a split second, they would agree, both with regard to von Spakovsky’s unfitness for the Commission and the need to fix the structure of this ineffective agency.  A more independent and less partisan process must be inaugurated to safeguard our democracy. 

The fact that Senators Reid and Schumer are reportedly willing to take a pass on von Spakovsky so they can get their person through is a testament to how toothless the Senators know the FEC has become.  It is no secret that the reform groups like the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, and others have made it clear that the manner in which FEC Commissioners are selected and the structure of the Commission itself must change.  If this “deal” to rubber stamp each Party’s nominee has indeed been struck, it’s not good for the FEC, it brings discredit on the Senate, and most importantly it will be a blow to democracy and against the American people.    

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