A Reuters article on President Bush's nominations for the Federal Election Commission did not note that President Bush withdrew the renomination of FEC chairman David Mason, who told Sen. John McCain that he needed the FEC's permission to opt out of the public financing system in the presidential primary.
A May 6 Reuters article on President Bush's nominations for the Federal Election Commission noted that "[t]he FEC has been deadlocked with only two out of six members for months, therefore unable to act on key 2008 election issues such as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain's request to opt out of public financing for his bid." But the article left out the fact that President Bush withdrew the renomination of FEC chairman David Mason, who told McCain that he needed the FEC's permission to opt out of the public financing system in the primary. On January 9, 2007, Bush submitted Mason's name for reappointment to the FEC. On May 6, he withdrew that renomination, nominating three others to the commission.
As Media Matters for America has noted, Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot opt out of public financing in the primary without FEC approval, as McCain has attempted to do, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond the limits of the public financing system -- which he has already exceeded -- he could be breaking federal law.
The Associated Press reported on February 21:
The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign.
Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November.
The loan could have required McCain to remain in the race, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan. A March 23 Washington Post article reported that “McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system,” and a February 22 article in the Post noted that "[k]nowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison." Under the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act, violators could face fines up to $25,000 and up to five years of jail time.
In contrast with the Reuters report, several other media reports on Bush's nominations for the FEC did note that Mason was not being renominated and that Mason has challenged McCain's actions. The Associated Press reported on May 6: “Bush also withdrew the nomination of current FEC Chairman David Mason, who had clashed in the past with likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain. ... Mason had informed McCain that he needed the approval of the commission before withdrawing and needed to explain the terms of a loan he obtained before he surged to victory in the early primaries. Without a quorum, the FEC was unable to act.” The Associated Press further noted that Fred Wertheimer, president of the political watchdog group Democracy 21, said: “The only apparent reason for President Bush to drop Commissioner David Mason at this stage ... is to prevent him from casting an adverse vote against Senator McCain on important enforcement questions pending at the commission.” Similarly, The Washington Post reported that Democrats “objected to the replacement of David M. Mason, one of two commissioners still serving on the six-member body,” adding that “Mason earlier this year questioned the legality of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) opting out of public financing.” The New York Times also reported that “Bush declined to renominate David Mason” and noted that Wertheimer asserted that Mason was being removed because he questioned McCain's “ability to withdraw from the public financing system for the primaries.”
The May 6 Reuters article, in its entirety:
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday moved to break the deadlock at the Federal Election Commission, which had been without a ruling majority in a pivotal campaign year.
The FEC has been deadlocked with only two out of six members for months, therefore unable to act on key 2008 election issues such as Republican presidential hopeful John McCain's request to opt out of public financing for his bid.
To break the impasse, President George W. Bush nominated three new candidates to serve on the panel, but he refused to withdraw his nomination of Republican Hans von Spakovsky to serve on the FEC despite Democrats' opposition.
They have blocked his nomination because of his work at the Justice Department's voting division, questioning whether he tried to inject politics into the group meant to independently oversee the country's voting laws.
The White House believes he “would be confirmed by the Senate if allowed a vote,” said White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in a letter to Reid on Tuesday.
As part of the package, Bush nominated Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, legislative director to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Republican attorney Donald McGahn, and Republican Caroline Hunter, who works on the Election Assistance Commission.
Already another Democratic FEC nomination is pending, Steven Walther, and if he and Bauerly were confirmed, they would join Democrat Ellen Weintraub on the panel.
“This nominations package incorporates your proposals for the three Democratic seats on the commission and provides a clear path to our shared goal of a fully functioning six-member FEC,” Bolten said.
While a spokesman for Reid, a Nevada Democrat, criticized the decision by Bush to stick with von Spakovsky, he indicated a willingness to move forward on the slate of nominations.
“We will work towards the confirmation of the remaining nominees and expect to defeat Mr. von Spakovsky,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “We will work to ensure that the commission is constituted so that it will be able to function in this election year.”
The FEC is responsible for ensuring candidates abide by campaign laws such as contribution limits and also investigate election complaints like independent groups coordinating their efforts with candidates, possibly in violation of the law.