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Throwing FEC Commissioner Mason Under the Bus to Help McCain?

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As a political junkie, I've been focused on the close race in Indiana, but another important political story, perhaps not coincidentally, dropped at the same time: President Bush has made a move to break the impasse over Federal Election Commission nominations. But rather than jettison the controversial nominee to the FEC, Hans von Spakovsky, which would surely break the impasse, the president has dropped Commissioner David Mason, the Republican member on the now two-member FEC. The new Republican nominees are Don McGahn and Carolyn Hunter, who is currently a commissioner on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

What's going on? I don't always agree with Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, but this time I agree entirely with his insight: "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."

For Democracy 21 to be coming to Commissioner Mason's defense is extraordinary; Mason is no supporter of reform. But the other FEC nominees are going to be much more likely to tow the Republican party line on the commission. Commissioner Hunter has been one of more partisan members of the EAC, and likely will continue in that direction if confirmed to the FEC.

This move could well break the impasse over the FEC, but maybe not. Note that a vote on von Spakovsky would apparently be paired with a vote for Steven Walther, who is close with Senator Reid. If Sen. McConnell insists on a vote for the two of them as a package, it might not happen.

My guess now is that Republicans ultimately allow separate votes. They need the FEC to approve Sen. McCain's expected request for public financing in the general election portion of the campaign. They need that more than the Democrats now need a functioning FEC.