"Campaign-finance watchdog agency in limbo
"McConnell faulted for obstructionism
"By James R. Carroll
"WASHINGTON -- The nominating process in the 2008 presidential election began in Iowa last week, but the federal government's campaign-finance agency is unable to enforce the spending laws because it doesn't have enough commissioners.
"And that is the fault of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., according to Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog.
"The sheriff has been put on leave of absence here," Wertheimer said last week, referring to the Federal Election Commission.
"At issue is the Senate confirmation of four nominees to the six-member commission.
"With only two commissioners in place since the start of the new year, the FEC is unable to issue finance rulings, file suits or levy penalties for violations of the campaign laws. Four votes are required for any decision.
"McConnell insisted last month that the Senate vote on all four nominees together, including one who has drawn criticism for his previous work in the Department of Justice's civil-rights division.
"That nominee, Hans von Spakovsky, came under fire from Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a presidential hopeful, and others for advocating policies in Texas and Georgia that critics said undermined voting rights.
"The FEC is divided 3-3 along party lines, and all nominees are chosen by the president, though the Democrats were recommended to him by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
""The Democrats have picked their nominees and we've picked ours," McConnell told reporters as Congress prepared to break last month for the holidays. "What we have here (is) … the Democrats trying to veto one of our nominees. That isn't going to happen. They're all four going to go together or none of them will be approved."
"Wertheimer said McConnell has effectively shut down the commission.
"It leaves us appearing to be a banana republic," Wertheimer said. "It is simply irresponsible for this commission to be shut down when we are on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, to be followed shortly by the New Hampshire primary and in a month by Super Tuesday."
"At the moment, the two serving commissioners are Democrat Ellen Weintraub and Republican David Mason.
"Mason is one of the four nominees whose confirmations are pending before the Senate. Besides Von Spakovsky, a Republican, the nominees are Democrats Robert Lenhard and Steven Walther.
"Von Spakovsky, Lenhard and Walther were serving on the FEC as recess appointees until their terms expired at the end of last month before Congress re-convened.
"Since Mason is being renominated, there would still be a Republican vacancy on the commission even if all four were confirmed. President Bush has not nominated anyone for that seat.
* * *
"That's not the way the democratic process works, and it's not the way the confirmation process works," Wertheimer said.
* * *
"The Senate does not return to work until Jan. 22.
"Reporter James R. Carroll can be reached at (202) 906-8141."
Really, it's time to Ditch Mitch.