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  Confirmation Watch

Senator John McCain
placed a hold on all nominations pending before the Senate.



John McCain Strikes Again
Who in the World is Ellen Weintraub?

President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees face yet another hurdle in the U.S. Senate — Senator John McCain.

The Arizona Republican has placed a hold on all nominations pending before the Senate, including 17 judicial nominees. And the "maverick" senator is vowing to prevent any action on their confirmations until the president assures him that Ellen Weintraub will receive a recess appointment to a seat on the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) during Congress’ upcoming August break.

Who in the world is Ellen Weintraub?

Weintraub is the Democrat choice to fill a lame-duck FEC seat, currently occupied by Democrat Commissioner Karl Sandstrom. Sandstrom recently voted with his three GOP colleagues to approve new regulations by which soft-money provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA)* will be enforced. McCain is irate over the recently passed FEC regulations, as he and other principle BCRA sponsors — Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA) — claim the new rules were "intentionally and arrogantly" written to create loopholes in the law.

This much we know from The New York Times and other major media, which are exempt from McCain’s "reform," and have shamelessly reported on his latest posturing in a favorable light.

What’s not being widely reported is that Weintraub, a staunch supporter of BCRA, is the wife of Senator Russ Feingold’s legislative director, Bill Dauster. Her speedy ascension to the FEC post would no doubt serve McCain and Co. well, as the commission prepares to draft the next set of BCRA regulations in the fall. McCain will stop at nothing to ensure that happens, even if it means holding up the vital work of the Senate.

Also of note is that Weintraub, a former staffer for the House Ethics Committee, is currently an election lawyer in the Washington D.C. office of Perkins Coie LLP. The firm’s political law group, headed by Democrat operative Bob Bauer, represents numerous House and Senate Democratic campaign and political action committees, including that of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). According to United Press International, Perkins Coie is believed to be the "legal mastermind" behind several frivolous ethics complaints and unfounded fundraising charges against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and other Republican members of Congress and organizations.

In 2000, Perkins Coie represented the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in its Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) suit against House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX) and three tax exempt organizations. Perkins Coie and the DCCC charged that DeLay was "extorting" funds from political donors and laundering the money through organizations close to him. The baseless complaint was thrown out of court and the DCCC withdrew its charges almost a year later.

Is Weintraub, a product of Bauer’s tutelage, capable of serving on the FEC in an impartial role? We won’t know until she goes through the traditional process of being vetted and confirmed by the full Senate.

Majority Leader Daschle’s suggestion that Ellen Weintraub be nominated to the FEC post was sent to the president eight weeks ago. According to the White House, she is still undergoing the standard background checks — a process that Daschle himself admits is lengthy and time-consuming.

In the meantime, McCain’s desire to influence the FEC as it writes the regulations governing BCRA should not delay Senate action on the 17 nominees waiting to fill longstanding vacancies of the federal judiciary and more than 60 other nominees lingering on the Senate calendar. 

The Center has written extensively about the obstructionism that has plagued the judicial confirmation process. An agreement announced this week between the White House and leaders of both parties in the Senate to expedite the process could be good news for the many nominees being held in limbo. McCain’s petulance is now the only obstacle standing in their way.

*The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act represents one of the most egregious assaults on the First Amendment ever ventured by the United States Congress. The Center for Individual Freedom has joined Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and more than 80 other members of Congress, organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum in challenging the constitutionality of BCRA in court.

  • To download the Center’s complaint filed by Southeastern Legal Foundation, click here.

  • To read the Center’s Constitutional analysis of the McCain-Feingold bill, which is similar to the final version passed by Congress, click here.

[Posted July 12, 2002]