With a quiet, almost unnoticed nomination just before Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama rewarded Media Matters for its help in attacking reporters and critics of the administration. At the same time, he virtually guaranteed that a federal agency that is supposed to improve the administration of elections will instead become a partisan battleground intended to help his political party.
On Nov. 19, the White House issued a press release announcing that it was withdrawing the nomination of Myrna Perez, a lawyer at the Brennan Center, to be a commissioner on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). It instead nominated Matthew S. Butler, the former CEO and president of the George Soros-funded left-wing advocacy group Media Matters, to replace her.
The EAC is a bipartisan agency created in 2004 by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the election reform law that Congress passed in the wake of the 2000 presidential election and the controversy over what happened in Florida. The EAC, which is governed by four full-time commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — is supposed to assist and guide state and local election administrators in improving the administration of elections for federal office. The EAC serves as a national clearinghouse and resource for information about the best practices in election administration. It is also responsible for the accreditation of testing laboratories and the certification, decertification, and recertification of voting systems, like the electronic voting machines many people use when they vote in their precincts.
The four commission slots have been empty for several years, as Republicans and Democrats fought over the need for the continued existence of this agency.
In fact, just on Tuesday, Dec. 16, the Senate finally confirmed three other nominees for the EAC. The common characteristic of its new commissioners — and past commissioners like Paul DeGregorio or Donetta Davidson — has been that most of them were experienced election administrators at the state and local level, or at least election lawyers familiar with the federal and state election laws that apply to the administration of elections. That is a necessity given the EAC’s responsibility for helping improve the election process.
That is not a characteristic shared by Mr. Butler, as you’ll see on the next page.
He is currently a political consultant at BCT Consulting Group. But as BCT’s website explains:
Butler served as the President and CEO of Media Matters for America the largest and most influential progressive non-profit organization dedicated to challenging conservative misinformation in the media with an annual budget of $11M and a staff of seventy. While at Media Matters, TED named MediaMatters.org to its list of top 100 websites people should know and use. Butler also created the Progressive Talent Initiative a full-service media training and booking operation that has become an essential part of the progressive infrastructure. (emphasis added)
Butler also worked in the John Kerry and Christopher Dodd presidential campaigns, but when it comes to federal and state election laws or the administration of voter registration and elections, his experience is lacking. If working in a campaign qualified you to be an election official, everyone in Washington could be one.
He has been a leader and organizer of the progressive movement, and the head of Media Matters when it was acting as an unofficial PR wing of the White House and the Justice Department. As first reported in 2012 by Matthew Boyle, the administration was working with Media Matters “in an attempt to quell news stories about scandals plaguing [Eric] Holder and America’s top law enforcement agency,” including using Media Matters “to attack reporters” at Townhall, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, Fox News, and National Review.
I was one of the individuals attacked by Media Matters with the help of DOJ’s former public affairs director, Tracy Schmaler, for exposing DOJ’s unprincipled conduct in dismissing the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case.
Media Matters also worked with the administration to try to stop former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s exposure of Operation Fast & Furious — probably one of the most reckless law enforcement operation ever conducted by the Justice Department, which DOJ has been trying to cover up for the past two years with highly questionable privilege claims.
The other three new commissioners on the EAC, in stark contrast to the former Media Matters CEO and president, actually have relevant election experience.
They include: Matthew Masterson, who worked for the Ohio secretary of State for three years and at the EAC for five years before that; Christy McCormick, a senior trial attorney in the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice who also helped advise the Iraqi government on its new election system in 2009 and 2010; and Tom Hicks, the senior elections counsel for the Democratic minority at the House Administration Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over federal election laws.
Butler has no experience that would allow him to provide unbiased, objective advice to election officials on how to improve the voter registration and election process or to oversee the testing and certification of voting equipment.
But in his role as the head of Media Matters, he not only helped the administration attack its critics and stifle opposition, but proved his loyalty and steadfastness to the Democratic Party and the progressive cause with a win-at-all-costs attitude that the American people just rejected in the midterm congressional elections. As Doug Chapin — a long-time observer of the EAC who has been involved in the election reform process for the past decade — says, when President Obama swapped out Butler for Perez, he may have hoped for a lower profile nominee but he chose someone “just as partisan.”
Most disappointingly, the nomination of an individual with no relevant experience in the area he is tasked with administering looks like political patronage of the worst kind. President Obama has rewarded Media Matters for its underhanded, deceitful, behind-the-scenes help in going after reporters and others who were raising legitimate concerns about the questionable actions of the administration. This also does not portend well for having a bipartisan agency that tries to act in the best interests of the American voter as opposed to the best interests of one particular political party and its candidates.
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