President Bush on Thursday nominated Utah native Matthew Petersen to the Federal Election Commission, replacing a controversial nominee who had created a Senate confirmation stalemate that paralyzed the FEC.

The agency, which oversees election law and investigates violations, has had only two confirmed members for months. It needs four for a quorum and has been unable to conduct business and make rulings during this election year.

The Senate traditionally confirms a block of FEC nominees together to ensure equal representation by both major parties. But Senate Democrats had blocked confirmation of Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official.

They accused him of trying to suppress voter participation through such restrictions as voter identification laws and purges of voter rolls.

Earlier this month, Bush sent the Senate a new slate of nominees to fill the FEC position, again including von Spakovsky. And Bush withdrew the renomination of FEC Chairman David Mason, who had clashed in the past with presumed GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Last week, von Spakovsky withdrew his nomination, saying it was time for the deadlock to end.

Thursday, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee finally endorsed the nomination of other Bush nominees to the FEC. Four nominees — two Democrats and two Republicans — are now awaiting confirmation by the full Senate to join an incumbent Democrat who would continue serving.

And Bush announced his intent to nominate Petersen, a Republican, to fill the sixth and final slot.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "This prompt action provides a path toward seating a fully functioning, bipartisan commission. I appreciate the promise of the majority leader (Harry Reid, D-Nev.) for a speedy review of Mr. Petersen's record and look forward to his swift and successful confirmation."

Petersen currently serves as Republican chief counsel on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, the same committee in charge of confirming FEC members.

Before that, he served as counsel on the House Administration Committee. Petersen received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and his law degree from the University of Virginia.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and current boss of Petersen, praised his nomination.

"Matt has done an outstanding job as the Republican chief counsel and he understands these issues as well as anybody in Washington. We will hate to lose him on the committee staff, but I think the president has made an outstanding choice," Bennett said.

Petersen's nomination is expected to end bickering that has blocked confirmation of a long list of administration nominees to many positions. Senate Democrats have refused to confirm any of them until the FEC is fully staffed (without von Spakovsky.)

Democrats had even held quick Senate sessions — often lasting just a few seconds — during holidays and vacations to prevent Bush from using a law that permits him to make temporary, one-year appointments of officials when the Senate is in recess for more than three days.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com