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FEC Back in Business

The Senate breathed life into the nation’s elections regulator on Tuesday night, approving a five-person package of Federal Election Commission nominees that will revive the agency after a nearly six-month hiatus.

By voice vote, the Senate individually approved the nominations of Democrats Cynthia Bauerly, an aide to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Steven Walther, a confidant of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Bauerly and Walther will join sitting commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat.

The three new Republicans on the panel are Don McGahn, an election law lawyer, Caroline Hunter, who now sits on the Election Assistance Commission, and Matthew Petersen, a staffer on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee .

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately bashed Democrats for the prolonged shutdown, which hinged for months on the stalled nomination of Republican pick Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer who recently abandoned his bid.

Democrats and civil rights groups had protested the nomination of von Spakovsky for months, alleging that he pushed controversial voting policies while at the department.

“A fully functioning, bipartisan FEC is long overdue,” McConnell said in a statement after the vote. “I’m glad that Democrat obstruction on nominees is over so the FEC can now resume its critical role of enforcing election laws and ensuring that this election season is fair and equitable to all who are involved.”

With the nominees now confirmed, FEC spokesman Bob Biersack told Roll Call Tuesday afternoon that the five new commissioners must be sworn in before assuming their new roles, but that the process — as of Tuesday afternoon — had an uncertain timeline.

The White House also applauded the confirmation of the FEC picks, five of the nearly 400 executive branch nominations President Bush is asking the Senate to clear before departing for the July Fourth recess.

The Senate also approved three circuit court judges late Tuesday.

“For over 30 years, members of the Federal Election Commission have worked to administer and enforce America’s federal election laws,” White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore wrote in an e-mail after the vote. “President Bush is pleased that our country will now have a bipartisan, fully-functioning Federal Election Commission able to swiftly resolve challenging campaign issues of the 2008 election and beyond.”

Tim Taylor contributed to this report.

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