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Permanent Recess Appointment - Part III

Adam Lambert
Original Publication Date

Part 1 of this series covered von Spakovsky's background in the Georgia Voter ID laws and Texas Redistricting. Part 2 looked at his involvement in the U.S. Attorney purges and his advocacy of Voter Roll purges. Part 3 reviews von Spakovsky's recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission.

Tenure at the Federal Election Commission

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series document von Spakovsky's efforts in the aggressive pursuit of Voter ID laws. And indeed, President Bush gave von Spakovsky a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission in December 2005. This appointment was strongly opposed by Senator Edward Kennedy, who drafted a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott contending that von Spakovsky "may be at the heart of the political interference that is undermining the [Justice] Department's enforcement of federal civil laws".

Ironically, von Spakovsky (who helped Tom DeLay's redistricting plan in Texas amid revelations of significant donations by Jack Abramoff's tribal clients to DeLay's political action committees) immediately went after tribal donations upon his appointment to the FEC. A February 2006 report indicated that von Spakovsky broke with other FEC Commissioners regarding the regulation of Indian tribes:

In taking a stand on what has become a hot issue in Washington, von Spakovsky broke with his fellow commissioners, who voiced support for tribal sovereignty principles at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last week. FEC chairman Michael Toner and vice chairman Robert Lenhard declined to endorse legislative proposals that would limit tribal donations, although they said more disclosure of tribal activity is probably needed.

On the other hand, von Spakovsky says it's time for Congress to act now that Indian gaming has grown to a $20 billion industry, enabling tribes to contribute generously to politicians. "Although Congress probably did not contemplate this [gaming] issue in 1971, will it now regulate Indian tribes?" he wrote. "If not, why not? Is the political speech of Indian tribes involved in the gambling business not as 'corrupting' as that of corporations or labor unions?"

Though von Spakovsky's career was helped by large donations by Indian tribes, one of his first acts as a new FEC Commissioner was to regulate them.

In late 2006, Lindsay Renick Mayer reports in the Capital Eye that von Spakovsky authored a proposal that would craft certain exemptions to laws regarding what types of ads could be run within the 30 and 60 days prior to an election:

The Federal Election Commission rejected today a proposal that would have allowed labor unions, corporations and advocacy groups to broadcast ads close to an election that talk about issues but also identify candidates by name.

The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) prohibited such ads but gave the FEC the ability to establish exemptions. The commission's current rule bans interest groups from using unlimited and undisclosed funds to run issue ads naming federal candidates within 60 days of general elections and 30 days of primary elections. Within the blackout period, interest groups can run such ads but must pay for them using limited political contributions from donors they disclose.

While this proposal did not pass, it was controversial and piqued the ire of the Democratic FEC Commissioners as well as government watchdog groups:

"Without a specific definition, I think we're left with little more than an 'I'll know it when I see it' test," Weintraub said. She added that associating candidates with an issue could convey their position and, thus, affect the support they receive in an election.

Government watchdog groups made a similar argument. "The von Spakovsky proposal itself would have opened a major campaign finance loophole in BCRA and allowed corporations and labor unions again to use their organizational funds to finance campaign ads in the guise of 'issue ads,' " Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said in a statement after the FEC meeting.

The Campaign Legal Center Blog recently issued a scathing indictment of von Spakovsky, in which it noted a striking similarity between policy changes at the Voting Section as a result of von Spakovsky's involvement with the Texas redistricting and the Georgia Voter ID cases and the policy change at the FEC upon von Spakovsky's appointment:

To avoid future embarrassment in cases where political appointees overruled career staff recommendations made by DOJ attorneys in the Voting Section, the Department of Justice changed its four-decade-old policy following the Texas congressional plan and Georgia voter id bill cases. No longer are career attorneys permitted to make recommendations to the political appointees.  That way, when the political appointees act contrary to law, they cannot be accused of overruling career professionals in their recommendations. This policy change seems to stick to von Spakovsky like fly paper. Since his arrival, the FEC has adopted a similar policy, no longer permitting the General Counsel to publish written recommendations regarding the preferred course of action for the Commission to take. While it appears this new FEC policy may have had its original seeding before von Spakovsky joined the Commission, it did not fully blossom into a formal, if unwritten, policy until after von Spakovsky joined the Commission last year.

Tying it all together - with a resume like this...

For the entire length of his service in the public sector, Hans von Spakovsky has taken countless actions, been affiliated with numerous groups, argued for law changes, overrode election law experts and had a hand in dismissing career employees with stellar credentials. Throughout all of these efforts, there has been one main result - the suppression and disenfranchisement the voting rights of minority and likely Democratic voters, all in the name of "protecting voting rights" or "combating voter fraud."

The positions he has held - in Georgia, at the Department of Justice or as FEC Commissioner - are positions dedicated to protecting voting rights for all Americans. Yet he has consistently pursued actions and avenues that have instead set minority voting rights back decades. For these activities, he has consistently received promotions to positions where his influence and voter suppression tactics would have even greater impact.

In fact, it was the words of Joseph Rich, a career employee with over 30 years experience in the Justice Department, more than 20 of which were with the Voting Rights Section, that may have painted the most eerily accurate picture when he said, "von Spakovsky...wielded unusual power in the civil rights division.". This man, wielding such unusal power, built virtually his entire career on issues involving voting rights. Yet while he has been in positions that historically were designed to protect such rights - especially of minorities, he has consistently undermined them.

And he has ridden these voter suppression tactics all the way to the Federal Elections Commission.nder the name "clammyc", he has researched and written extensively on issues involving Iraq, the Bush administration and the "war on terror," the US attorney purge and election fraud issues.

ePluribus Contributors: Publius Revolts, Standingup, cho, AvaHome, GreyHawk, wanderindiana, Roxy and jenn718 contributed to this story.