The new 110th Congress convened at the start of this month with something it hadn’t had in a dozen years: a Democratic-controlled House and Senate. But amid the party’s hoopla over Nancy Pelosi’s ascent to House Speaker is the reality that its Senate majority is a thin 51-49, allowing for the fact that the two “Independent” senators, Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.), are Democrats all but in name. That edge could be the result of a close 2006 race in Missouri, where Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Republican Senator Jim Talent. Her margin of victory of slightly less than 50,000 votes very likely in part was the result of voter registration fraud. And the culprit is an operator familiar to the radical political landscape: the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. Investigative reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Wall Street Journal and other news sources recently revealed that the nationwide network of nonprofit groups played fast and loose with the voter registration process in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, not to mention outside Missouri.
Since its founding in Little Rock in 1970, the New Orleans-based ACORN has enjoyed strong support from organized labor. Its founder and chief organizer, Wade Rathke, also serves as chief organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100, representing about 5,000 workers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, and played a central role in setting up the Chicago-based SEIU Local 880, which represents health and home care workers in the Midwest. ACORN has grown into a great oak tree, what with its current $40 million annual operating budget and hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members in chapters across the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. But it hasn’t forgotten its radical roots or its affinity for the Democratic Party. Their organizers always have been frank in their desire to wrest political power from the ostensible enemies of the poor, such as businessmen and “right-wingers” generally. Unfortunately, ACORN doesn’t have much of an affinity for playing by the rules, especially in the months leading up to an election. And the organization seems anything but frank when confronted with legitimate questions.
The group’s web site claims that nationwide in 2006 it “registered over 540,000 low-income and minority voters.” Emphasizing various issues, especially hiking the minimum wage, ACORN targeted its registration drives in competitive states like Missouri. And that effort led to irregularities so flagrant that federal indictments came down in Kansas City even before Election Day. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. For beneath the group’s idealistic grass-roots populist rhetoric lies a crude and corrupt operating style rivaling that of any urban political machine of bygone days. Give ACORN credit: They know how to get the most bang for the buck. And the winner, Clare McCaskill, isn’t complaining.
In St. Louis, ACORN activists engineered one scam after another. City election officials, besieged by more than 5,000 suspicious-looking voter registration cards, sent letters to the registrants, asking them to contact the office. Cooperation proved minimal, however, with fewer than 40 persons responding. The city’s election director, Scott Leiendecker, said some registration cards appeared to be signed by the same person. In other cases, names looked as though they’d been taken directly from the phone book. Overall, Leiendecker estimated, only about 10 percent to 15 percent of all ACORN registration cards reaching his office were legitimate.
Neighboring St. Louis County (Note: St. Louis City and County are legally separate.) produced fraud, too. The case of Robert S. Rothschild, Jr. and his wife is instructive. The Richmond Heights, Mo. couple is listed in the St. Louis County telephone white pages as “Sandy and Susan Rothschild.” Somehow – a coincidence, ACORN might say – they received a letter from the county election board notifying them of their new voter registration as “Sandy and Susan Rothschild.” Here’s a clue something was amiss: The husband and wife each were listed as female, and with an identical date of birth. “Is someone really going to go to our precinct and try to vote? I doubt it very much,” Mr. Rothschild told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Or is this just some sloppy way [for ACORN members] to get paid $8 an hour to make it appear that they’re really doing the work they’re hired to do?” One thinks more the latter than the former. The county came across hundreds of bogus voter address changes in the months leading up to November, the Post-Dispatch reported. Most of the suspicious information had been submitted by ACORN.
Leiendecker is fully aware something is wrong with this picture. “It’s one of two things,” he said. “ACORN needs to look at themselves internally, and their management practices. Something is not clicking. Either that, or the group is trying to commit fraud.” It would seem both are true: Something is not clicking and ACORN is committing fraud. But don’t tell that to Wade Rathke. The ACORN founder-organizer responded to the accusations by calling City of St. Louis election officials “slop buckets,” accusing them of having “broken the law in trying to discourage new voters illegally.” Election officials say that’s a bunch of baloney. “We met twice with ACORN before their drive, but our requests completely fell by the wayside,” noted deputy elections director Matt Potter, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, across the state in Kansas City, something was rotten as well. Election authorities there complained about voter registrations turned in by ACORN activists. Back in October the city’s GOP elections director, Ray James, along with his Democrat counterpart, Sharon Turner Buie, announced that more than 15,000 registration forms were “questionable.” Problems included duplicate, questionable and unreadable information, and names, addresses and Social Security numbers that didn’t match actual records. ACORN had an explanation. The fraudulent forms were created by a handful of “temporary workers” whom ACORN caught and fired; the group then brought the matter to the attention of the authorities. But that’s not how Kansas City Board of Elections Chairwoman Melodie Powell, a Republican, recalls it. Powell says these claims are “seriously misleading.” In fact, she noted, ACORN helped identify the perpetrators only after her staff took the evidence to the FBI. She says that about 40 percent of the 35,000 ACORN-generated voter registration forms reaching her office appeared phony.
Subsequently, on November 2 – several days before the election – a federal grand jury indicted four ACORN employees for “knowingly and willingly” submitting false information to Kansas City election authorities. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs dismissed a two-count indictment against one of the defendants, Stephanie Davis, at the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, since her identity was used “without her permission.” That in itself, however, may be evidence of possible fraud. ACORN hardly stands exonerated.
Officials at ACORN say the discrepancies in Kansas City voter records are the product of honest mistakes. That sounds like a fish story. In one case, reported KMBC-TV, the Kansas City elections office received seven applications signed by the same person during August 29-31. Todd Elkins, an ACORN member who was at the elections office on October 24, told KMBC reporter Michael Mahoney that it was possible that the person signing was just friendly. Maybe he kept coming up to our voting canvassers and just signed up,” Elkins said. “Seven times?” asked an incredulous Mahoney. “I’m saying it’s a possibility,” replied Elkins. In another case, Kansas City election officials sent a letter to a voter requesting more information about his registration card. His wife called back indicating he had been deceased for 27 years. KMBC’s Mahoney also interviewed Jackson County (Mo.) Elections Board Director Charlene Davis, who showed him 11 separate voter applications signed by the same 19-year-old woman. “Incredible, isn’t it?” asked Davis. Well, yes it is. But in the world of ACORN, it’s entirely believable.
Fraud in ACORN-led voter registration drives isn’t just limited to Missouri. ACORN workers have been convicted of election-related offenses in Wisconsin and Colorado. What’s more, investigations have occurred in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In Minnesota, authorities found hundreds of voter registration cards in the trunk of a car owned by a former ACORN member suspected of registering voters twice so he could double his fees.
A few disillusioned ACORN organizers admit that honesty was never a high priority in the organization. Loretta Barton, a former organizer in Dayton, Ohio, admits, “All ACORN wanted from registration drives was results.” Apparently, the group wasn’t too concerned about how those results came about. In 2004, for example, one Ohio ACORN worker was given crack cocaine in exchange for fraudulent registrations, which included underage, deceased or fictitious persons with names such as Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy and Jive Turkey. Nate Toler, an ACORN organizer, told the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund: “There’s no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances. The internal motto is, ‘We don’t care if it’s a lie, just so long as it stirs up the conversation.’” He added, “I may have my head chopped off for telling the truth.”
ACORN from the start has engaged in highly deceptive tactics in its avowed goal of seizing power from the mighty and giving it to the powerless. The basic principles of democracy and rule of law, in Missouri and other states, appear to matter little. Democrats for years have alleged that Republicans “stole” the 2000 presidential vote in Florida. Let them explain ACORN’s election deceptions for a change. Indeed, let Missouri’s newest Senator, Claire McCaskill, explain things. Since 1999 McCaskill had served as state auditor. There had been in fact well-documented connections of ACORN to vote fraud in Missouri during her tenure in office. In September 2003 workers for the St. Louis City Election Board discovered more than 1,000 suspicious-looking voter registration forms from among a batch of about 5,000 submitted by ACORN. One form was listed in the name of an alderman who turned out to be an infant. McCaskill’s office released an audit in 2004 pointing to massive fraud. So why isn’t she complaining about the same sorts of tactics now? Here’s a hint: McCaskill ran for Missouri governor in 2004 and lost in a close general election. Last November she won the general election for U.S. senator.
As for unions, they should withdraw all support for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which repeatedly has been at least as exploitative of workers as the skinflint employers they routinely denounce. Loretta Barton recently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the group. She recalls, “We were told, ‘if you get a union, you won’t have a job.’” Indeed, in 2003 the National Labor Relations Board ordered ACORN to rehire and pay restitution to three former employees it had illegally fired for trying to organize a union. Last year, ACORN workers in Missouri had to sign contracts that stated their weekly workload would be “up to 80 hours over seven days.” So in other words, the “progressive” ACORN sounds like a classic bunch of union busters. But don’t expect organized labor chieftains to take notice. Their world, like that of ACORN, is one in which the ends justify the means. (Wall Street Journal, 11/8/06; Labor Watch, 1/07; other sources).