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Von Spakovsky Deserves Senate Confirmation

It’s time for the Senate to stop playing politics with our campaign finance system and confirm Hans von Spakovsky and the three other nominees to the Federal Election Commission.

Von Spakovsky already has served 21 months on the commission, and his record justifies his confirmation. As an FEC appointee, he has consistently enforced the law while respecting the First Amendment. But his nomination has been blocked for nearly one month by a pair of Senators — Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — who have seized the nonsensical arguments of individuals and organizations that harbor a strong distaste for free political speech.

“At the Department of Justice, Hans von Spakovsky was directly involved in efforts to politicize the Department and use the Voting Rights Section to disenfranchise voters, rather than enforce our nation’s civil rights laws,” the Senators declared.

But respected Democratic campaign finance attorney Bob Bauer refuted on his Web site the idea that von Spakovsky’s performance at the DOJ disqualifies him from serving as an FEC commissioner.

The Senators’ rhetoric mirrors a June letter arguing against von Spakovsky’s confirmation sent to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee by Campaign Legal Center Executive Director Gerry Hebert. The Campaign Legal Center is an organization dedicated to supporting ever-tightening campaign finance and speech restrictions and has led the opposition to von Spakovsky’s nomination.

Hebert’s letter detailed that his objections stemmed from two disagreements during von Spakovsky’s time at the Department of Justice. The letter raised no objections to von Spakovsky’s tenure at the FEC.

Bauer, who is counsel to both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on his Web site that one can disagree with von Spakovsky’s defense of DOJ policies, but that it is disingenuous to say that the positions taken by the DOJ fell outside the legal mainstream. Moreover, Bauer said the “question at hand” is about von Spakovsky’s qualifications for the FEC, not his stance at the DOJ.

“Notably and somewhat surprisingly, Hebert does not devote much attention to von Spakovsky’s performance at the FEC,” Bauer wrote. “In this post, von Spakovsky has been a principal, not staff, and the decisions he makes are his alone as a Presidential appointee.”

Yet Hebert also attacks von Spakovsky over differing, legitimate interpretations of the law.

Personal disagreements over legitimate differences in opinion concerning the law should not preclude von Spakovsky from being confirmed as FEC commissioner. But that is exactly what has happened as other organizations and individuals jumped in to criticize von Spakovsky for doing his job at the DOJ.

Feingold and Obama’s statement also claimed that as “a recess appointee to the FEC he has been a committed, ideological opponent of the campaign finance laws he is supposed to enforce.”

This inference that von Spakovsky’s FEC record disqualifies him to continue serving also is easily refuted. In von Spakovsky’s 21 months on the FEC, he has consistently enforced our nation’s campaign finance laws and regulations. Obama and Feingold did not cite a single example in which they believe von Spakovsky has not evenly enforced the law.

It would seem the explanation for the Senators’ objection is that they are upset because he has not used campaign finance laws to suppress political speech aggressively enough to suit their tastes.

Indeed one only needs to read the speech-suppressing campaign finance law that bears Feingold’s name to witness his distaste for free speech. Similarly, on the campaign trail Obama has routinely denounced political rights that are guaranteed by the First Amendment, particularly the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Hans von Spakovsky deserves more than blanket opposition based on ideology and politics. It’s time for the Senate to approve his nomination.

Bradley A. Smith is chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics.