The Senate on Tuesday confirmed five nominees for the Federal Election Commission, breaking a prolonged partisan logjam and allowing the agency to resume functioning.
The nominees were confirmed without dissent after drawn-out talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and a last-minute hang-up over a demand from Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a campaign finance crusader, to meet with all five nominees.
Though the FEC staff has been at work, the six-member commission has been inactive because it has not had a quorum to conduct business. The commission is the agency that regulates federal elections and campaign finance matters.
"Our nation's campaign finance watchdog was off the beat," Reid said.
The newly confirmed commissioners are Democrats Cynthia L. Bauerly of Minnesota and Steven T. Walther of Nevada, along with Republicans Caroline C. Hunter of Florida, Donald F. McGahn of the District of Columbia and Matthew S. Petersen of Utah.
McConnell called the action "long overdue," adding that the agency "can now resume its critical role of enforcing election laws and ensuring that this election season is fair and equitable to all who are involved."
A key breakthrough came last month when the White House nominated Petersen, the Republican chief counsel on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, to the commission, replacing another candidate who withdrew after coming under Democratic fire.
Petersen replaced Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official whose oversight of voting rights matters had angered Democrats. Von Spakovsky served on the FEC under a recess appointment.
The commission consists of three Democratic and three Republican appointees. Any commission action requires a four-vote majority, no matter what size the quorum.
Since the beginning of the year, the commission has only had two members: Republican Chairman David Mason and Democrat Ellen Weintraub.
Earlier this month, President Bush decided to withdraw Mason's nomination, prompting a protest from Reid and from watchdog groups.
Mason has on few occasions voted with Democrats on regulatory matters. Earlier this year, he angered officials in Republican presidential campaign by raising questions about a loan McCain obtained and by informing the campaign that it needed a vote of the commission before withdrawing from the primary's public financing system. Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the FEC over McCain's loan and on Tuesday it sued in federal court to compel the FEC to investigate the matter.
Check out May tallies for Obama and McCain - including how much they've raised and spent since the campaign began.
McCain has another matter before the commission. He plans to accept $85 million in public money for his general election campaign - a step that requires the approval of the commission. Without an operating FEC, McCain would be unable to collect the money.
The FEC faces unfinished business that includes final action on regulations governing candidate air travel as well as new rules on lobbyist fundraisers and joint advertising by national parties and federal candidates.