MICHELE MORRIS, host:
Yesterday, Republican senators blocked an attempt to hold a vote of no - confidence in Attorney General Roberto Gonzales. But no one thinks the storm over politics in the Justice Department has passed. Tomorrow morning the Senate Rules Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for four members of the Federal Election Commission. One of them used to be a political operative at the Justice Department and was deeply involved in the issue of voter fraud.
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: Hans von Spakovsky was a recess appointee to the Federal Election Commission 18 months ago and so escaped the Senate Confirmation fight. Now President Bush has nominated him for a full-term along with three other commissioners, hence the hearing. But never mind von Spakovsky's track record at the FEC, he's more likely to be grilled about his previous job as a top lawyer in the voting rights section at the Justice Department.
In 2003, he worked on a redistricting plan from Texas. Tom Delay, then the most powerful Republican in Congress, drew the plan to add Republicans to the state's Congressional delegation. Career lawyers in Justice Department said it shouldn't be approved. Von Spakovsky and other politicos thought it should be, and it was.
Gerald Hebert was a long-time voting rights specialist at Justice. As a private attorney, he represented Texas Democrats in the redistricting fight. He says von Spakovsky is too partisan for the top echelon of any federal agency.
Mr. GERALD HEBERT (Democrat's Lead Attorney, Texas Congressional Delegation): They need to ask Hans von Spakovsky that when the Texas case matter was pending, did you talk to anybody in the White House about the plan? Did you talk to anybody on Tom Delay's staff about the plan?
OVERYBY: Here are other notable cases too. In 2005, Justice reviewed a voter identification law from Georgia. Critics said it discriminated against poor people who would have the hardest time getting photo IDs. Von Spakovsky had published a law review article arguing strongly for voter ID laws, but he'd used a pseudonym so no one connected him to it. He oversaw the review of the Georgia case at Justice and once again he overruled the career lawyers. After that career employees say there was purge.
Toby Moore was one who left. He says von Spakovsky was instrumental in forcing him out.
Mr. TOBY MOORE (Former Employee, Justice Department): One of the ways I think they did that was going through our e-mails looking for communications that would lead - that could lead them to, as in my case, file a complaint against me.
OVERYBY: Von Spakovsky has drawn other criticism as well. At the Federal Election Commission, he declared that a proposal to regulate political advertising was equivalent to the Alien and Sedition Acts, laws that were enacted in 1798 in an effort to silence attacks on President John Adams. Proponents of stronger campaign finance regulation questioned his commitment to enforcing policies that he so clearly opposes. Von Spakovsky declined to be interviewed for this piece.
One of his allies is Edward Blum, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Blum says von Spakovsky knows his job is to enforce the law.
Mr. EDWARD BLUM (Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute): Not to grasp(ph) the law, not to finesse the law, but to enforce it.
OVERYBY: As Blum describes him, Von Spakovsky would be a good fit for the Federal Election Commission. It has three Republican Commissioners and three Democrats, so a winning majority requires consensus.
Mr. BLUM: I know a lot of Washington lawyers and, you know, they'd suck the air right out of the room when they walk in. And, you know, they think they're batting .380 wherever they go, and Hans is just not that way.
OVERYBY: And no matter how badly Senate Democrats want to pummel von Spakovsky, they had to remember this fact of Capitol Hill: if he goes, his seat will be filled by another Republican.
Peter Overby, NPR NEWS, Washington.
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