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Bush Stacks FEC to Help McCain

Looks like Mitch McConnell will finally allow separate votes on the FEC nominees, such that the organization can have a functioning board. After all this time when they couldn’t act for lack of a quorum, why break the log jam now?

McConnell and the White House are obviously trying to ease things for John McCain, who has had complaints against him filed with the FEC both by the DNC and readers of this blog. David Mason, the current Chair of the FEC (who said that McCain could not withdraw from the public financing system without permission from the board), is being thrown under the bus.

Bob Bauer:

If Mason gave offense, it was the result of his challenge to Senator McCain over the latter’s unilateral withdrawal from the primary matching fund system. It was an irritant at the time, and it would have been an irritant in the future when a reconstituted FEC will have to decide, with enough Commissioners reporting for duty, whether to pursue enforcement action against McCain. By dropping Mason, the Republicans improved their defense of McCain. Mason, the critic, is one vote that Republicans will no longer have to worry about. And however he would have voted in the end–and Mason might well have eventually found in favor of McCain–his continued involvement in the debate would have been awkward for the Republican side. Some will conclude also that Mason’s sudden disappearance from the stage is a message about the limits of regulatory and intellectual independence.

These are the probable reasons for the curtain falling on the Mason years. The reason for the White House to act now is to restore the FEC to full voting power, which is not usually a Republican priority but now serves the immediate need of giving Senator McCain the most direct, statutorily routine access to public funding for the general election. In this one move, the White House ended McCain’s accountability for his use or abuse of the primary public financing system while putting him in position to take money for the general.

For this maneuver to have been arranged for the benefit of Senator McCain, of all people–the John McCain who has regularly, severely criticized the FEC as a "corrupt" agency–is a remarkable turn in his career as a reformer. A Commissioner who acted to enforce the law, to just raise an important question of enforcement, has been stripped of his post. This was clearly in Senator McCain’s interest, this raw power play. It is also in his interest to have the FEC, back in business minus Mason, arrange for his money for the fall campaign.

It is inconceivable that McCain was not informed of the plan. In fact, it is highly probable that he was in involved in its formulation or its approval.

Even Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer, who has been loath to criticize McCain’s flouting of campaign finance law, can’t help but decry the wanton politicization of the FEC to benefit McCain:

The only apparent reason for President Bush to drop Commissioner David Mason at this stage, an FEC candidate he had twice proposed for the Commission, is to prevent him from casting an adverse vote against Senator McCain on important enforcement questions pending at the Commission. The questions deal with Senator McCain’s request to withdraw from the presidential primary public financing system and the consequences of a loan the McCain campaign took out and the collateral provided for the loan.

Under these circumstances, President Bush’s dumping of Mason can only be viewed as a bald-faced and brazen attempt to wrongly manipulate an important enforcement decision by the nation’s campaign finance enforcement agency.

The White House action today represents the political equivalent of obstruction of justice.

It is very similar to the improper way in which the White House and Justice Department previously removed U. S. Attorneys from their positions because of what they did, did not do or might do in various enforcement matters.

The nomination of Don McGhan for confirmation to serve on the FEC simply affirms that the White House and Senator Mitch McConnell have little interest in the enforcement of the nation’s campaign finance laws.

Mr. McGhan, who has served as counsel to the NRCC and as a campaign finance and ethics lawyer for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has shown disdain for the FEC and for the nation’s campaign finance laws in his previous actions.

Christy has the rundown on why voter suppression whiz Hans Von Spakovsky (who remains on the list) is such an odious holdover. In a separate vote it’s likely he will still not receive confirmation, so the big trophy was Mason. It is as Bauer says a "raw power play," and McCain should have to answer for the way he benefits from this kind of flagrant political manipulation and abuse of power.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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