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Hotlined FEC Vote in Jeopardy

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Wednesday derailed a plan blessed by Senate leaders to vote on controversial Federal Election Commission White House nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a move giving Democrats time to breathe in the ongoing Senate stalemate on FEC nominees.

According to Democratic Senate aides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a deal mid-week to hotline four FEC slots that must be confirmed by the Senate before next year. As part of the proposed deal, a voice vote on fellow commission nominees only would take place if no Senators objected to von Spakovsky’s nomination.

But a vote on the deal, which was expected to come to the floor as early as today, appeared to be off by mid-day Wednesday after Obama — and unconfirmed others — voiced concerns that von Spakovsky’s nomination was too controversial not to go through regular floor proceedings.

A Democratic aide said Senate offices continue to explore “concerns with Mr. von Spakovsky, if they rise to the level of other objections, as well as where the caucus lies.”

During recent weeks, liberal activists and campaign finance reform groups have stepped up criticism of Democratic leaders in the Senate over the nominations.

In an Oct. 1, 2007, letter to Reid, a coalition including the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21 and the League of Women Voters criticized a plan by Members of both parties to vote on all four nominees as one package, a strategy some claim allows both parties to pack the agency with political cronies.

“As far as we can see, the only reason for forcing the Senate to take a single bloc vote on the four pending FEC nominees appears to be to prevent a majority of the Senators from voting to reject one of the nominees,” the letter from the coalition read. “This is an unjustifiable and indefensible basis for denying regular order in the Senate and preventing individual votes on each of the four FEC nominees.”

The letter also stated: “It appears that efforts are being made to bypass the normal process used to confirm presidential appointments in order to ensure this controversial nominee’s confirmation by packaging him with the other FEC nominees to have just one vote on all four of the nominees together, thereby evading a specific vote on the controversial nominee.”

Along with von Spakovsky, Democratic nominees Robert Lenhard, a former lawyer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Steven Walther, Reid’s former lawyer, must be confirmed before 2008 to remain on the commission. Republican nominee David Mason, a former staffer for Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), also faces a confirmation vote.

Of the two remaining FEC posts, one Republican seat stands vacant, while Democrat Ellen Weintraub, a former lawyer on the House ethics panel, remains on the commission until her replacement is confirmed. Cyndi Bauerly, a lawyer for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), is expected to be named as Weintraub’s replacement.

National Republican Congressional Committee lawyer Don McGahn likely will be nominated to replace Michael Toner, who left the commission this past spring.

Obama’s decision to block the vote marks the first time a Democrat has pledged to return McConnell’s fire in the standoff. Last week, McConnell pledged to hold up all four nominations unless they are confirmed as a group, a plan that has few anecdotes.

In a recent statement, Obama called von Spakovsky “an unacceptable nominee.” I strongly oppose the nomination of Mr. Hans von Spakovsky to serve a full term at the Federal Election Commission,” Obama said in a recent statement. “The FEC needs strong, impartial leadership that will promote integrity in our election system. Hans von Spakovsky is not the right person for this job, and I call on President Bush to send Congress a new nominee.”

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