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Former Justice lawyer pulls name for election post

WASHINGTON — Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer who became a lightning rod for partisan wrangling over an alleged Bush administration voter suppression campaign, pulled his name from consideration for a seat on the Federal Election Commission Friday.

Von Spakovsky's nomination had been stalled for months amid allegations that he interpreted laws in ways that would inhibit voting by poor, elderly and minority voters, who tend to back Democrats.

His withdrawal could break an impasse that has all but disabled the FEC from functioning in a year of record presidential campaign fundraising. The commission has operated for months with just two of its six commissioners in place, two votes short of a quorum needed to take enforcement action.

In a letter to President Bush, von Spakovsky noted that his nomination has been pending for 2 1/2 years, a process that has been ``extremely hard'' on his family. His two-year presidential recess appointment to the FEC expired last December.

``We do not have the financial resources to continue to wait until this matter is resolved,'' von Spakovsky wrote.

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said Bush ``reluctantly'' accepted von Spakovsky's withdrawal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., welcomed it, saying he has urged Bush to drop von Spakovsky's nomination for six months.

Amid last year's scandal over the administration's politicization of the Justice Department, von Spakovsky's role as a voting rights counsel in the Civil Rights Division drew scrutiny. Former department lawyers charged in a letter to Congress that he was the ``point man'' in the voter-suppression strategy.

Justice officials countered that von Spakovsky and others were attempting to eliminate voter fraud, which they said was sullying election results. They offered no proof that such fraud was widespread.

Reid said that ``Democrats stood united in their opposition to von Spakovsky,'' asserting that he is ``not qualified to hold any position of trust in our government.''

Lawrimore, however, said that during his temporary FEC service, von Spakovsky was ``an excellent commissioner,'' committed to ``increasing transparency and accountability'' in the election process. She noted that his legal positions had been ``vindicated'' by the Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding Indiana's toughest-in-the-nation voter identification law, a model that he has forcefully advocated for years.

Reid had refused to permit the Senate to vote on the four FEC nominees unless von Spakovsky was considered separately.

Bush began to compromise on the FEC impasse earlier this month when he withdrew the nomination of current Chairman David Mason and submitted three new names for Senate confirmation. Mason, a Republican, had questioned whether presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain could withdraw from the public financing system during the primary election season.

The new nominees are Democrat Cynthia Bauerly, legislative director for Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York; Caroline Hunter, a former White House aide and counsel to the Republican National Committee, and Donald McGahn, who has served as counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Bush now must nominate a replacement for von Spakovsky.