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Election Commission Deadlock Could End Soon

President Bush nominated two new Republicans and one new Democrat to the Federal Election Commission Tuesday in an attempt to break a Senate confirmation deadlock that had paralyzed the regulatory agency.


Bush resisted efforts to withdraw the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official whom he nominated in 2007 but who had not been able to win votes in the Senate to get confirmed.


The White House said the latest compromise would permit a separate vote on von Spakovsky.
The stalemate over von Spakovsky had left the six-member FEC without a quorum to conduct business despite record fundraising by presidential candidates and the emergence of outside groups that have been testing the limits on advocacy regulations.


The new nominees are Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, a lawyer who serves as legislative director for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Republicans Caroline Hunter, a former White House official and current member of the Election Assistance Commission, and Donald McGahn, who has served as counsel for the National Republican Congressional Campaign.


Bush withdrew the nomination of current FEC Chairman David Mason, who had clashed in the past with likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain.


One current commissioner, Democrat Ellen Weintraub, would remain as a holdover.
If confirmed, the new commissioners will face unfinished business that includes final action on regulations governing candidate air travel as well as new rules on lobbyist fundraisers and on joint advertising by national parties and federal candidates.


Also pending is action on McCain's decision to bypass public matching funds during the primary. Mason had instructed McCain that he needed the approval of the commission before withdrawing. Without a quorum, the FEC was unable to act.


White House chief of Staff Joshua Bolten notified Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of the new slate in a letter late Tuesday. The offer came after Reid last week suggested restarting the nominating process in order to have a functioning FEC.


"We would accept a vote on the entire package or up or down votes on each nomination," said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore.


The White House views that as a potential breakthrough -- Republicans had insisted that all FEC nominees be voted on as a package.


Reid has long proposed holding separate, simple majority votes on each nominee because of Democratic opposition to von Spakovsky.


Still, in the letter to Reid, Bolten said, "The package does not include a withdrawal of Hans von Spakovsky, whom we believe would be confirmed by the Senate if allowed a vote." Bolten said von Spakovsky's performance as a commissioner bodes well for his candidacy.


Bolten said the White House hopes to have a fully functioning FEC by Memorial Day.


Von Spakovsky, and Democrats Steven Walther and Robert Lenhard had been serving short terms after Bush appointed them during a congressional recess. But those appointments expired at the end of 2007. Lenhard withdrew from the nomination process during the recent impasse. Walther, like von Spakovsky, is now awaiting confirmation.