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Democratic Leaders Nominate CFR Opponent for FEC Post

Congressional Democratic leaders have nominated a key labor operative to serve on the Federal Election Commission, choosing to allow the term of Scott Thomas, an outspoken advocate of campaign finance reform, to expire.

The decision prompted an outcry from longtime campaign finance reform supporters who said they were shocked by the news.

“It’s wrong to punish the commissioner who has been the strongest proponent of properly implementing and enforcing the campaign finance laws, including the new soft-money ban, by removing him from his job,” said Democracy 21 head Fred Wertheimer.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced late Thursday they have asked President Bush to appoint Robert Lenhard to the FEC to replace longtime Commissioner Thomas. Lenhard is the associate general counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, where he is responsible for overseeing the politically powerful union’s election law-related matters.

“Bob Lenhard is a respected attorney with broad experience with campaign finance law,” Daschle said. “He has been endorsed by an impressive array of civil rights, environmental, women’s, and labor organizations and will faithfully administer the new campaign finance reform law in accord with the intent of Congress.”

But a skeptical Wertheimer said Lenhard has been “one of the labor lawyers challenging the constitutionality of the new campaign law” in the courts. The campaign finance advocate noted that Lenhard’s name was even included on the AFL-CIO’s notice of appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. AFSCME is one of the AFL-CIO’s largest constituent groups.

But Daschle’s spokeswoman said both leaders are confident Lenhard will uphold the law.

“They supported campaign finance reform, but had one small issue with the law and everyone is confident, including all the groups that endorsed him, that he will uphold the law at the commission,” said Ranit Schmelzer, a spokeswoman for Daschle.

In announcing the appointment, Daschle and Pelosi noted that Lenhard had received the blessing of nearly 20 political organizations ranging from the AFL-CIO to the Sierra Club. Many of the groups listed by the Democratic leaders have openly opposed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and are involved in the ongoing court battle.

Despite their decision to nominate Lenhard for the post, Daschle said he expects Thomas to “continue to be heard on these issues in future debates.”

Thomas, who began his service at the FEC as a legal intern in 1975, was first appointed to the commission in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. He was reappointed twice, by the first President George Bush in 1991 and again in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.

He could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

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