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Democrats Vow to Stick With Lenhard for FEC

Republicans May Reappoint Mason

As Democrats spar with the reform community over their Federal Election Commission nominee, Republican leaders are considering reappointing GOP Commissioner Dave Mason to another six-year term after a leading contender for his job backed out of the race.

While some conservatives are still championing other candidates — Don McGahn, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s top lawyer, is said to be in the running — and no final decision has been made, several sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said all indications point to Mason’s likely reappointment.

“Mason is pushing hard, and Vogel’s withdrawal cleared the way,” said one well-placed source, referring to Alex Vogel’s decision to remove his name from consideration. Vogel is chief counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Democrats, meanwhile, are still wrangling with members of the reform community over their decision not to reappoint longtime Democratic Commissioner Scott Thomas.

Last month, Democratic leaders gave the 18-year FEC veteran his marching orders, sparking a fierce battle that only intensified this week as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) threatened to block the nomination of Thomas’ replacement, labor lawyer Robert Lenhard.

Democrats responded Tuesday by digging in their heels.

“The leader thinks that Bob Lenhard is a respected professional who will bring clear-headed experience to the FEC,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “He has a reputation based on years of being a fair and reasonable advocate.”

Spokesman Jay Carson reiterated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) resolve in seeing Lenhard’s nomination through: “There is broad support for him in the Senate, and Senator Daschle is confident that if he holds this position, he will enforce both the spirit and the letter of the McCain-Feingold law, and we expect him to be confirmed.”

Another source close to the appointment process put it more succinctly, stating that Democrats have no intention of reappointing Thomas, even if Lenhard “entered a monastery” tomorrow.

McCain and others in the reform community have objected to the nomination of Lenhard, the associate general counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, characterizing him as an opponent of the campaign finance reform efforts on behalf of his labor clients.

In a recent Roll Call column on the issue, McCain-Feingold supporter Norman Ornstein condemned the “spurning” of Thomas — whom he called “the one commissioner most dedicated to enforcing the law with genuine fealty to principle” — in favor of “someone who is a clear opponent of the campaign finance law that passed last year and will be considered by the Supreme Court.”

But Lenhard’s allies say this criticism is undeserved, and they are challenging the notion that Thomas is the reformer that pro-McCain-Feingold groups make him out to be.

Dissecting Thomas’ past votes on the commission, they noted that as vice chairman of the FEC several years ago, Thomas rejected the advice of then-General Counsel Larry Noble and upheld the ability of national political party committees to have state parties run issues ads on their behalf, freeing up soft money.

Moreover, while reform groups have railed against the FEC for voting to continue to allow soft-money funding of nominating convention activity, they have failed to mention that Thomas voted with other commissioners to do so.

Thomas — who last week was spotted hob-nobbing with reformers outside the Supreme Court following oral arguments in McConnell v. FEC — has remained largely silent on the appointment process until late last week, when he appeared on the PBS show “Now with Bill Moyers.”

In the segment, Thomas said he doesn’t “begrudge the Democratic leadership from giving someone else a chance” but he is worried.

“I guess what I’m concerned about is that this movement of some people in the Democratic Party ranks who basically turn around and to stop supporting the McCain-Feingold concept is perhaps washing over even into this appointment process,” he said.

Thomas told the show he learned that his days were numbered when he “received a visit from someone in the labor community who is again, a friend of mine. And we’ve worked together on many issues over the years, and he came to give me the news that basically this other fellow had been given the nod by the Democratic leadership.”

Thomas, who was traveling in Europe last week and could not be reached for comment, indicated during the PBS interview that he has no hard feelings.

“I have always been a big fan of Senator Daschle and Mrs. Pelosi,” Thomas said. “And I think that their policies by and large are just fine. I think on this particular issue of the campaign finance reforms, frankly, I think they’re getting some bad advice.”

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