Senator: Ex-Justice official too partisan for FEC

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee took the unprecedented step Wednesday of sending four Federal Election Commission nominations to the Senate floor without recommendation after the committee's chairwoman, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, refused to back a controversial former Justice Department official.

Feinstein told colleagues on the Senate Rules Committee that Hans von Spakovsky's record in the department's Civil Rights Division demonstrated that he's too partisan to serve on the FEC.

Former career Justice Department voting-rights lawyers have charged that Von Spakovsky, while a division counsel from 2003 to 2005, served as the administration's ``point man'' in a campaign to adopt policies that suppress voting by Democratic-leaning minorities. Feinstein pointed especially to von Spakovsky's support for a Georgia law requiring voters to produce photo IDs, which a federal judge later blocked as akin to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared at the hearing to join Republican colleagues in demanding that all four nominees — two Republicans and two Democrats — be considered in pairs and as a group, as has been the practice since at least 1986.

``All of these nominees will move together on the floor or not at all,'' McConnell said.

Republicans balked at a proposal by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to approve the other three nominees and send von Spakovsky's name to the floor without recommendation.

With Feinstein acknowledging that the committee was at an impasse and stressing that the six-member FEC is riddled with vacancies heading into a presidential election year, the panel compromised by sending all four names on without endorsing any.

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who isn't on the committee, issued a statement opposing von Spakovsky's nomination and calling on President Bush to submit a new nominee.

Von Spakovsky has served since early last year as a presidential recess appointee. His prospects for Senate confirmation may be brightened because his nomination has been paired with that of Democrat Steven Walther of Reno, Nev., who has the strong support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The other nominees are Republican David Mason of Virginia and Democrat Robert Lenhard of Maryland.