WHY MALEK MATTERS…. This week’s revelations about Fred Malek’s odious work in the Nixon White House strike some as irrelevant. As I was reminded many times yesterday, his sins were, after all, nearly four decades ago.

But there’s more to it than that. If you’re just joining us, Malek played the role of “Jew counter” for Nixon, identifying those he labeled “ethnics” at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where Nixon believed a Jewish “cabal” had taken over. Malek was responsible for identifying Jewish BLS employees, many of whom were later fired. The revelations later forced him to resign from a leadership role on the Republican National Committee.

So, why should anyone still care? Dave Weigel explains:

There are two huge problems here. One, Malek has not been entirely honest about his Nixon-era assignment — he did, indeed, recommend changing the employment status of Jewish employees and reorganizing the department to promote “loyal Republican economists.” He’s apologized, but he’s also failed to tell the truth about what he apologized for. Two, we’re still in the throes of a Beltway debate over whether the White House skirted the law by suggesting possible jobs to candidates it wanted to get rid of in two U.S. Senate races. And here you have a new conservative think tank run by a man who recommended giving and taking away federal jobs based on party loyalty and ethnicity.

I’d love for this to be a case of Democrats throwing up an unfair distraction, and Malek’s friends are credible when they say this was a lone incident of bias, that he’s never shown any since then. But Malek really needs to explain what he did in 1971 if he’s going to remain a credible conservative leader.

And “leader” strikes me as a key word here. It’s not as if Malek was just writing some fat checks to far-right candidates, and Democrats were trying to generate a controversy. His current role is far more significant.

He was recently named to an important Virginia budget panel, appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R); he was a campaign finance chair for John McCain’s presidential campaign; he’s a prominent advisor to former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R); and he’s been tapped to head up the American Action Network, a Rove-backed campaign operation to direct right-wing campaign funds into electing Republicans.

Like it or not, Malek — and his scandalous past — matter.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.