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FEC Nominees May Finally Get Vote

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office confirmed on Monday that a vote on five Federal Election Commission nominees is expected before lawmakers break later this week for the July Fourth recess.

A vote on the nominees fell through late last week when Reid asked Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for more time on behalf of an unnamed Senator.

On Monday, aides to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) confirmed that he asked Democratic leaders to delay the vote so he could grill the nominees one-on-one. Feingold has long been involved in campaign reform.

Feingold’s office also confirmed that as of Monday, the Senator had met with one of the five nominees and that the four others are scheduled to meet with him later this week.

Feingold’s office declined to indicate specific questions that he was asking the FEC nominees. Along with presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Feingold was the primary sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and frequently weighs in on legislation involving the regulation of money in politics.

President Bush has nominated two Democrats and three Republicans to join sitting Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, at the elections regulator. Democrats are putting forth Cynthia Bauerly, an aide to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and Steven Walther, a Reid confidant and lawyer in private practice.

Republicans are proposing the nominations of Don McGahn, a lawyer in private practice, Caroline Hunter, who sits on the Election Assistance Commission, and Matthew Petersen, a GOP staffer on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley also said on Monday that it remains to be seen whether the five nominees will be voted on as a package or individually — terms that doomed FEC nominee deals earlier this year.

Senate Republican leaders continued to cry foul on Monday over Feingold’s demand for more time to scrutinize the nominee slate. A Republican Senate leadership aide said Democrats were sandbagging a possible vote in order to buy the Democratic National Committee time to file a lawsuit today involving McCain.

“I expect that after the lawsuit is filed, Sen. Feingold will drop his hold, and we’ll have an FEC,” the GOP aide said.

In a floor speech last Friday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the DNC lawsuit and his Democratic colleagues for holding up the vote.

“Those are the kinds of shenanigans which I don’t think we ought to export from the campaign to the Senate,” McConnell said. “In the Senate, it strikes me we have an obligation to get this Federal Election Commission reconstituted and functioning, not to try to give one party’s national committee or another some kind of advantage in a pending lawsuit.”

DNC spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said on Monday that the committee, as planned, will ask a federal court today to force the FEC to determine whether McCain exceeded fundraising limits in the primary after his campaign received a bank loan that was guaranteed with public money.

The DNC first filed the lawsuit in April but was told by the court that the committee must wait until today — 120 days later — to ask the court to look into the loan.

FEC lawyers now have 30 days to respond to the DNC’s lawsuit, after which the committee could find itself in a court dispute directly with McCain’s campaign.

But should the Senate confirm the FEC nominees by week’s end and reopen the agency’s doors, Paxton said, the court order could still serve an important purpose: helping the new commissioners triage their vast caseload.

“It appears that with the Senate nominations on track, we want to make clear that [McCain’s loan] should be at the top of the FEC’s agenda,” Paxton said.

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