Few people in Washington know as much about the complex web of federal campaign finance rules as former FEC Chairman David Mason. So it was not surprising when Aristotle, a leading provider of campaign software and political databases, announced last week that Mason is the company's new senior vice president of compliance services.
The Republican appointee to the FEC from 1998 to 2008 is perhaps best known as the FEC chairman who refused to bend the law when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., notified the commission in 2008 that he was switching from limited public financing to unlimited private donations for his presidential campaign.
Mason told McCain that might be illegal, since early in his campaign McCain had secured a bank loan based on his pledge to use public financing. Mason wanted the FEC to rule on whether McCain could opt out of the agreement, but there was a big problem: Senate Democrats were blocking one of President George W. Bush's FEC nominees, and a lengthy standoff left four of the six commission seats vacant, which meant the agency could take no official actions in the hectic months leading to the 2008 election.
"That was a tangled mess because the FEC didn't have a quorum," Mason said. "The statute says you must have four votes. So I wrote Sen. McCain what I thought was a routine letter, telling him that we'd rule as soon as we had a quorum."
McCain, who by then had a lock on the GOP nomination and wanted to raise money for his general election campaign, was furious, as were most Republicans. Bush appointed Donald McGahn, a former general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, to take Mason's place on the FEC, and Mason returned to work with the Heritage Foundation, where he spent most of the '90s.
Mason said he was bitten by the political bug as a teenager growing up in southern Virginia, and he interned for former Rep. Caldwell Butler, R-Va., while earning degrees from Claremont McKenna College and Concord Law School. In 1978, he worked on the first Senate campaign of former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., which led him to a job on Warner's staff in 1979.
Staff positions with former Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., and former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., followed, then in 1987 Mason joined the presidential campaign of the late Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y. After Kemp lost, Mason landed a job with the late Margo Carlisle as a deputy assistant secretary in the Defense Department's legislative affairs office.
This article appears in the July 3, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.