Obama taps two for Federal Election Commission

President Obama on Friday chose his first nominees in four years to the politically gridlocked Federal Election Commission, planning to tap the head of the California Fair Political Practices Commission and a veteran Washington election law attorney to fill longtime openings on the six-person panel.

The White House said the president intends to nominate Democratic elections watchdog Ann Ravel to fill the spot vacated by Cynthia L. Bauerly, who stepped down in February, and Republican lawyer Lee E. Goodman of the firm LeClairRyan to replace Commissioner Donald F. McGahn, whose term expired in April 2009.

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Both nominations require Senate confirmation.

All current commissioners are serving expired terms, a situation that has galled advocates of tougher campaign finance rules, who have repeatedly called on the president to nominate new members.

Obama’s only previous FEC nominee, labor attorney John Sullivan, withdrew his name in August 2010 after his confirmation stalled in the Senate for more than a year.

Ravel has used her perch on California’s elections panel to spearhead an investigation into the donors behind a nonprofit group that funneled $11 million into state initiative campaigns. Her selection buoyed campaign finance reform advocates, who have long pushed the FEC to be more aggressive in that area.

This year, Ravel led an effort by state regulators to collaborate on ways to force politically active nonprofit organizations and trade groups to reveal their funders, saying the federal government has failed to act.

“Ann Ravel is an outstanding choice and has been a real leader in the area of campaign finance enforcement,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the pro-reform group Democracy 21. He added: “We hope this may be the beginning of the country having a federal campaign enforcement agency again, but it will take some time to find that out.”

Conservatives reacted with caution to her planned nomination.

“I hope she will exercise her power with restraint and understand that the role of an FEC commissioner is not to be a roving police of political speech,” said Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC commissioner who chairs the Center for Competitive Politics.

Goodman brings a different background, having represented corporations, trade groups and political campaigns for the past two decades.

“He has a great knowledge of the law and the impact of the rules on real-world political activity,” said Republican election law attorney Michael E. Toner, a former FEC commissioner, who worked at the same firm as Goodman in the 1990s.

 
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