Hans Across America

by digby

Sometimes I feel as if I've been writing about the same things over and over again for years and it never adds up to anything. But in the case of this "voter fraud" issues, I have been concerned about what the Bush administration was up to for some time and it appears to be adding up to something quite huge. (Of course, I'm not the only one who was following this --- many people knew it was happening.)

Today, McClatchy has a barn burner of an article about the Bush administration's efforts to suppress the vote. It's no longer possible to argue with a straight face that they didn't use the power of the Justice Department for partisan reasons. The Bush administration has been pursuing phony voter fraud like it was a massive scourge, helping states enact all kinds of specious laws that only result in disenfranchising legitimate voters --- the kind who tend to vote Democratic. (I wonder why?)

Read the whole article and then come on back and we'll unpack just a tiny little piece of it, blog style.

Longtime readers will recall that way back when I wrote a bit about "Buckhead" the man who miraculously discovered in a few short moments that the kerning and fonts of the Dan Rather memos were "off" and put his "findings" up on Free Republic. You all know the results of his magnificent bit of internet sleuthing. In researching Buckhead, whose real name is Harry McDougal, I found out that in addition to being a member of the Federalist Society and someone who helped write anti-Clinton briefs for Kenneth Starr, he was a member of the Fulton County elections board which ruled that the extremely dubious Sonny Perdue and Saxby Chambliss wins in 2002 were perfectly a-ok. The guy got around.

It turned out that another interesting Republican fellow had previously been on that elections board by the name of Hans von Spakovsky, whom you just read about in that McClatchy piece. He was hired by the Bush Justice Department's civil right's division shortly after his stint down in Florida during the recount. Anyway, Von Spakovsky is not just another Atlanta lawyer. He had for years been involved with a GOP front group called the "Voter Integrity Project" (VIP) which was run by none other than Helen Blackwell, wife of notorious conservative operative Morton Blackwell. (Many of you will remember him as the guy who handed out the "purple heart" bandages at the 2004 GOP convention but he's actually much better known for years of running the dirty tricks school "The Leadership Institute" and is even credited with coining the name "Moral Majority." Let's just say he's been a playah in GOP circles for a long time --- and the VIP is one of his projects.

Salon published a piece on the Voter Integrity Project back in 2000:

VIP chairwoman of the board is Helen Blackwell, also the Virginia chairwoman of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, whose husband, Morton, serves as executive director of the conservative Council for National Policy. It took lumps for being partisan earlier this year from Slate writer Jeremy Derfner. "In fact, almost everything about the Voting Integrity Project makes you wonder. Though VIP's members assert that they are both independent and nonpartisan, the organization is essentially a conservative front," Derfner wrote.

VIP has vigorously opposed efforts to liberalize voting procedures -- railing against everything from Internet voting to Oregon's mail-in balloting to the Motor Voter bill. But it is VIP's involvement in partisan political fights that makes Democrats charge the group is a Republican front group.

VIP sent investigators into largely black areas in Louisiana after Mary Landrieu's 1996 U.S. Senate victory over Republican Woody Jenkins.

"The VIP conducted its investigation over a 10-day period from December 26 through January 4, during which time they concentrated on the Orleans Parish voting activities," a VIP release says. "The VIP examined and independently verified substantial amounts of evidence gathered by the Jenkins campaign, as well as gathering its own evidence concerning vote buying, vote hauling and improprieties by elections officials tasked with protecting voting machines."

VIP chairwoman Helen Blackwell told the Senate Rules Committee, "Many claims of the Jenkins campaign have merit and should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law."

In a few short years, former VIP lawyer Von Spakovsky, who had made his name calling for voter roll purges in Georgia, was working in the Justice Department, with the full resources of the federal government behind him.

From the McClatchy article:

In late 2001, Ashcroft also hired three Republican political operatives to work in a secretive new unit in the division's Voting Rights Section. Rich said the unit, headed by unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate Mark Metcalf of Kentucky, bird-dogged the progress of the administration's Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and reviewed voting legislation in the states.

One member of the three-person political unit, former Georgia elections official and Republican activist Hans von Spakovsky, eventually took de facto control of the Voting Rights Section and used his position to advocate tougher voter ID laws, said former department lawyers who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Those former employees said that Spakovsky helped state officials interpret the Help America Vote Act's confusing new minimum voter identification requirements. He also weighed in when the Voting Rights Act required department approval for any new ID law in 13 states with histories of racial discrimination.

In November 2004, Arizona residents passed Proposition 200, the toughest state voter ID law to date, which requires applicants to provide proof of citizenship and voters to produce a photo ID on Election Day. The Voting Rights Act state requires states to show that such laws wouldn't impede minorities from voting and gives the Justice Department 60 days to approve or oppose them.

Career voting rights specialists in the Justice Department soon discovered that more than 2,000 elderly Indians in Arizona lacked birth certificates, and they sought their superiors' approval to request more information from the state about other potential impacts on voters' rights. Spakovsky and Sheldon Bradshaw, the division's top deputy and a close friend of top Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson, a former Bush White House lawyer, denied the request, said one of the former department attorneys.

Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article back in 2004 about this subject which everyone who is following this case should read (or re-read) to see just how pervasive this "voter fraud" initiative was in the Bush Justice department. Karl Rove was almost certainly running it from the white house. But it was being pushed from throughout the Republican establishment that had recognized for years that they couldn't win fair and square. I think 2000 scared the hell out of them. If it hadn't been for Ralph Nader and Jebby and Poppy's political machines they would have lost that one and they had put everything they had into winning it.

So where is our friend Von Spakovsky now?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

President Bush nominated two controversial lawyers to the Federal Election Commission yesterday: Hans von Spakovsky who helped Georgia win approval of a disputed voter-identification law, and Robert D. Lenhard, who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Von Spakovsky and Mason are Republican appointees, while Lenhard and Walther are Democratic picks for the bipartisan six-member commission.

In a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote that he is "extremely troubled" by the von Spakovsky nomination. Kennedy contends that von Spakovsky "may be at the heart of the political interference that is undermining the [Justice] Department's enforcement of federal civil laws."

Career Justice Department lawyers involved in a Georgia case said von Spakovsky pushed strongly for approval of a state program requiring voters to have photo identification. A team of staff lawyers that examined the case recommended 4 to 1 that the Georgia plan should be rejected because it would harm black voters; the recommendation was overruled by von Spakovsky and other senior officials in the Civil Rights Division.

Before working in the Justice Department, von Spakovsky was the Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., and served on the board of the Voter Integrity Project, which advocated regular purging of voter roles to prevent felons from casting ballots.

In a brief telephone interview, von Spakovsky played down his role in policy decisions in the Civil Rights Division. "I'm just a career lawyer who works in the front office of civil rights," he said. He noted that the department has rules against career lawyers talking to reporters.

That takes some gall, don't you think? He actually tried to pass himself off as a career lawyer for the justice department when he was nothing but a political hack from the moment he hit DC. Chutzpah doesn't even begin to describe it.

Bush gave him a recess appointment a month later. A couple of months after that, this came out

I'm sure everyone is aware by now that the recent study by the NY Times pretty much takes voter fraud off the table as anything but a partisan Republican tool for suppressing the Democratic vote:

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Frankly you had to be something of an historical illiterate not to recognize from the beginning that these folks are up to the same tricks they've been using for decades. They tried mightily, with everything they had, the federal government, the Republican Lawyers Association, the country awash in patriotic paranoia, and they still couldn't prove this case --- even crookedly they couldn't do it. In fact, their insistence on finding it where there was none is what has caused their whole edifice to crumble.

Oh, and by the way, von Spakovsky has now been formally nominated by Bush to the FEC and will have to undergo Senate confirmation. Here's a blistering critique of his performace at the DOJ as well as his predictably awful tenure on the FEC from a former attoreny in the civil rights division. He concludes:

But even putting aside his controversial tenure at DOJ, von Spakovsky’s performance at the FEC over the last year independently raises questions of whether he is worthy of Senate confirmation. His comments at FEC meetings have often been caustic and extraneous to the issue at hand. He has consistently scoffed at the spirit of campaign finance laws, thumbing his nose at the law as he seeks to help create routes of circumvention. He even accuses those reformers who seek regulation of the role of money in our political process as attempting to take us back to the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts. This is an easy accusation to make, and von Spakovsky has employed it a number of times, and it certainly is easier to attack those he disagrees with rather than to explain principled reasons for his own actions.

The Senate Rules Committee hearings will begin soon. When they do, the American people have the right to know all the details of von Spakovsky’s roles in both the Texas and Georgia matters, and his handling of FEC matters as a recess appointee. That record, if compiled, will make the vote on his confirmation quite easy.

Let's hope so.