Cracking Acorn—When Congress voted in mid-September to curtail all federal funding to Acorn, two people with costumes and a video camera achieved what the Bush Justice Department failed do in eight years.
The community organizing group has been on the Republican Party’s hit list since George W. Bush’s 366-vote victory in 2000 in Florida energized Democratic activists to register and turn out voters. Since then, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn—a 40-year-old nationwide non-profit group that has 400,000 members and focuses on low- and moderate-income economic issues and voter registration—has registered approximately 2 million voters.
The two Acorn employees filmed by a right-wing video team in Baltimore are pathetic and painful to watch, as they give tax and housing advice to a couple posing as a prostitute and a pimp. The hidden camera brought into focus real problems of an advocacy group that pays its organizers too little and fails to provide adequate supervision.
The result was a trifecta for the Republican Party. Acorn workers will not be subcontracted to work on the census, Congress has voted to cut off all its federal funding (much of which goes toward housing issues), and Acorn’s leadership is considering shutting down its voter registration program.
Banana Republican Alert—Bush White House Advisor Karl Rove warned the Republican National Lawyers Association in April 2006 of “an enormous and growing problem with elections today”—where in some “hot spots,” American elections looked like elections in countries run by “colonels in mirrored sunglasses.” Rove warned that our democracy was at risk because of failed ballot security.
The truth was more complex, if sometimes hidden. Six months later, the federal agency studying voter fraud concluded that it was not a problem. Revealing the truth required leaking the original 2006 Election Assistance Commission Report—after a version revised and edited by political operatives was first published as the commission’s official findings. The uncensored report concluded that “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud.”
That conclusion was confirmed by an April 2007 New York Times report on the Bush Administration’s crackdown on voter fraud that found that in seven years 120 people had been charged and 86 convicted—in the entire United States.
Gonzo Justice—It might have been Rove’s obsession with voter fraud that ended the career of Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (now a visiting professor at Texas Tech University, after no law firm would come near him). At least two of the nine U.S. attorneys fired in the scandal that forced Gonzales to resign lost their jobs because they failed to deliver Acorn prosecutions demanded by political hacks at the White House and Justice Department.
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias (a Republican appointee) in New Mexico looked at 100 voting fraud complaints, according to the Times. He could only find one “real shot” at prosecution. After the FBI interviewed his best prospect, Iglesias concluded there was no criminal intent. The state Republican Party chair and Republican Senator Pete Domenici complained to the Bush Administration and Iglesias was fired. The woman Iglesias elected not to prosecute was an Acorn employee who falsified applications to bump up her quota for a job that paid less than $10 an hour.
David Graves, the (Republican) U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, was also asked to resign after he failed to file criminal charges against four Acorn employees, against whom he could find no justification to prosecute. Graves was replaced by Brad Schlozman, who simultaneously served as the interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City and a deputy attorney general at the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Less than a week before the November 2006 election, Schlozman indicted the four Acorn workers, despite DOJ guidelines that strongly discourage indictments on the eve of an election. (Acorn had notified Graves that the four workers had engaged in questionable practices.) The charges were dismissed. So was Schlozman, who resigned after a meltdown before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A DOJ inspector general’s report in July 2008 concluded that Schlozman had politicized the office, violated hiring policies, and lied to Congress. The report was turned over to the criminal division of the Justice Department. In a letter to Congress last month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Schlozman would not be prosecuted.