THE PLANK MAY 8, 2008
The Federal Election Commission, you will recall, is currently unable to function because four of its six seats are vacant, thanks to a long-standing nomination dispute between the Bush administration and Senate Democrats. In what looked like a surprisingly conciliatory gesture, Bush agreed to send up a new slate of nominees. On closer inspection, though, what he's really done is send a big favor John McCain's way.
Democratic election-law guru Bob Bauer explains why this is the case. The primary objection Democrats had to Bush's old slate was that it included Hans von Spakovsky, a former Bush Justice Department official who turned the department's Civil Rights Division into a de facto arm of the RNC. Bush, displaying his characteristically sharp logic, attempted to resolve the situation by sending up a new slate of nominees that...still includes von Spakovsky. On the plus side, Republicans now appear willing to let the Senate vote separately on von Spakovsky (previously, Mitch McConnell had insisted all the nominees be voted on together), so Democrats will have a fair chance to vote down his nomination.
But here's what the GOP gets in return: Bush has dropped the re-nomination of Republican commissioner David Mason. It was Mason who had raised objections to McCain's sketchy, possibly illegal plan to opt out of public financing for the primaries despite initially accepting it and (sort of) using the public money to secure a bank loan to fund his campaign. Taking Mason out of the picture removes a major headache for McCain and lets him evade responsibility for the campaign's questionable financial maneuvering. It also clears his path to accept public financing for the general election, which requires a functioning FEC to approve. This likely explains why Bush is acting now--as Bauer points out, making sure the FEC can do its job is not normally a Republican priority.
Of course, the presumptive Democratic nominee has his own campaign finance conundrum, but I wouldn't be surprised if Obama ends up using McCain's flip-flopping here as an excuse for weaseling out of his own (now inconvenient) pledge to accept public financing for the fall campaign.