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Money Matters: Bush Ups Ante on FEC

The White House on Tuesday continued to pressure Senate Democrats to confirm nearly 400 nominees to various federal offices by Friday, including five Federal Election Commission picks whose absence continues to shutter the elections regulator.

[IMGCAP(1)]“Before leaving for its Fourth of July recess, the Senate should fulfill its constitutional obligations to provide these pending nominees a fair up-or-down vote,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “The president believes it’s time for the Senate to finally judge the president’s nominees by their qualifications and not by the political calendar.”

Senate leaders worked into the night on a deal to push through the FEC nominees that Democrats derailed earlier in the day. In a morning floor speech, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) objected to a vote proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who offered to take up a package that includes Democrats Cynthia Bauerly, an aide to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and Steven Walther, a close associate of Reid.

President Bush has nominated Don McGahn, a Republican election law lawyer; Caroline Hunter, who sits on the Election Assistance Commission; and Senate Rules and Administration Committee staffer Matthew Petersen to fill GOP slots at the agency.

If approved, the five nominees would join holdover FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat.

Reid said on the Senate floor that he was delaying the vote on behalf of longtime reform advocate Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who was in the process of interviewing all five nominees.

McConnell quickly fired back, accusing Democrats of intentionally dragging their feet on the nominations to buy time so the Democratic National Committee lawyers could file a lawsuit against the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). The DNC did in fact file a suit later Tuesday.

The DNC is accusing McCain of violating campaign finance laws when his campaign applied for a bank loan earlier this year.

“There have been various efforts, it appears, to delay in order to give the DNC an opportunity to file a lawsuit [Tuesday],” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Now maybe I’ll be proven wrong. … Maybe they won’t file that lawsuit and then I’ll be comforted that the effort to delay confirming [the nominees] … was not somehow related to litigation being proposed by the DNC.”

As of press time, the Senate had not voted on the package of FEC nominees.

If and when the slate is approved, according to FEC spokesman Bob Biersack, it’s uncertain how quickly the new commissioners will be chipping away at the piled up caseload — including the DNC’s lawsuit, formulating rules on bundled campaign contributions and addressing hybrid political ads.

Sununu-Linked Group Whacked. The New Hampshire Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the FEC, alleging that an outside political group is violating campaign finance laws by attacking Sen. John Sununu’s (R-N.H.) opponent.

The group, Americans for Job Security, is airing roughly $90,000 in radio ads criticizing the record of former Granite State Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who will face Sununu in November.

“Sununu and his Washington attack machine have already launched the first negative ad of the campaign because they know Sununu can’t run on his record of voting 90 percent of the time with George Bush,” state Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement.

Fines Paid. The FEC late last week said it collected roughly $200,000 in fines, including a five-digit penalty from a group run by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) that was bilked by a campaign worker.

The Dole North Carolina Victory Committee paid the agency $20,000 for “failing to comply with recordkeeping requirements, failing to file complete and accurate reports with the FEC and accepting prohibited corporate contributions,” the commission reported.

The infractions were a result of a $150,000-plus embezzlement scheme hatched by Earl Allen Haywood, a former campaign treasurer.

Haywood, who was convicted in the case, paid $5,000 and cannot work on campaigns for 10 years for carrying out the scheme.

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