Money and Democracy

Published — August 9, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

After 15-month wait, White House withdraws Sullivan nomination to FEC


The White House quietly informed the U.S. Senate late last week that it has withdrawn the nomination of labor lawyer John J. Sullivan for a seat on the Federal Election Commission. The nomination of Sullivan, a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) lawyer, was announced over 15 months ago and had sailed through the Senate Rules Committee in June 2009.

But Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and John McCain, R-Ariz., placed a “hold” on Sullivan’s nomination last July, serving notice that they would filibuster his confirmation. Two additional FEC commissioners’ terms were up — one a Democratic seat, one a Republican slot — and the duo demanded Obama nominate replacements to fill those seats before they would permit a vote on Sullivan.

The lawmakers’ gambit appears to have failed. The three FEC commissioners whose terms are expired have stayed on pending their replacements, as the unusual FEC rules explicitly allow. The administration has yet to announce nominations for the other two positions.

Experts agree that the FEC has been a low priority for both the Democratic-controlled Congress and for President Barack Obama through his first year and a half in office, contributing to the roadblock in replacing the commissioners whose terms have expired.

In a May interview, Sullivan told the Center for Public Integrity that the wait had been difficult. “I do my best not to think about it every day, but sometimes I can’t help myself,” Sullivan said. He noted that he hoped to join the FEC soon, but when is “certainly beyond my ability to influence or predict at this point.”

The SEIU said Sullivan is currently traveling abroad and unreachable for comment.

The White House did not respond for a request for comment on the withdrawn nomination.

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