Professionalized Corruption

by digby

The TPM empire is chasing down the voter fraud issue with its usual zeal and Josh is connecting the dots and putting things into perspective. (Here's a nice write-up of the Rove speech to the RNLA.)

As everyone knows, the Republicans have been throwing around this voter fraud trope for years as a way of intimidating minority voters. And I'm sure it works. Between the long lines and the harrassment at the polls, a lot of people just won't bother. That, of course, is exactly the point.

Last week I wrote about this paper done by the Center for Voting Rights before the 2004 election which discussed in depth the GOP's modern voter intimidation operation, which is called the Republican National lawyers Association. It turns out that it was formed for the purpose of combatting "voter fraud" which, as Josh explains in his post, is pretty much non-existent in any systematic way and is usually some guy faking signatures on a registration form to earn money, not actual people voting. They are trying to intimidate people into not voting and the way they do this is by making an example of some poor person in a minority community who made a mistake and filled out a form incorrectly, like this one:

Another example is that of Pakistani immigrant Usman Ali. He'd been in the US for ten years and owned a jewelry store. He was in line one day at the DMV when a clerk put a registration form in front of him along with other forms. Ali hastily filled it out. He never made any attempt to vote. But the mistake got him deported back to Pakistan where he's now trying to rebuild his life with his US citizen wife and daughter.

Again, note that these random "crimes" rarely include actual illegal voting. They are almost always some snafu related to registration paperwork. (See this NY Times article debunking the myth of widespread voter fraud.

How all this relates to the US Attorney scandal is partly what Marshall points out today --- all roads lead to Karl Rove's white house office where he directed various schemes which may have obstructed justice, but in any case were unethical interference from the political side of the administration.

But there's more than just Karl's direct efforts. In a post on the subject at All Spin Zone, Richard writes:

I have no doubt that RNLA-trained and equipped lawyers are now serving in U.S. Attorney positions around the country. And most of them are regarded as “loyal Bushies” first, and instruments of the proper administration of the U.S. Department of Justice second. That’s the way the Bush regime works.

Yes it is:

In his day job, Christian Adams writes legal briefs for the voting rights section of the Justice Department, a job that requires a nonpartisan approach.

Off the clock, Adams belongs to the Republican National Lawyers Association, a group that trains hundreds of Republican lawyers to monitor elections and pushes for confirmation of conservative nominees for federal judgeships.

Vice President Dick Cheney credited the 3,000-member association in 2005 with helping the Republicans win the previous two presidential elections. Last year, President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove shared with the group his insights on winning elections in key battleground states. At a conference the association organized last month, speakers called the controversy over whether eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for partisan political reasons "farcical" and "ridiculous."

According to the group's Web site, Adams is one of dozens of Bush administration appointees or civil servants who are members, including at least 25 in the Justice Department, nine in the Department of Defense and others in the Labor and Commerce departments, the White House and the Office of Special Counsel, which oversees investigations into allegations of ethical misconduct by government employees.

Some are entry-level employees; others are high-ranking political appointees.

Their names appeared on the organization's Web site under the heading "Find a Republican Lawyer," in many cases along with their federal government e-mail addresses and work telephone numbers.

While government employees are permitted to be members of political organizations, the prominent listings on the Republican National Lawyers Association's Web site strike some current and former Justice Department lawyers as inappropriate, especially given that several members of the group work in the Justice Department's voting section, criminal division or as assistant U.S. attorneys.

Lawyers in those jobs are supposed to be especially careful to avoid the appearance of partisanship, because of the sensitive political nature of the cases they may handle, including voting access lawsuits and public corruption cases.

Justice Department officials deny any improper politicization, but after McClatchy Newspapers contacted Adams, his affiliation with the Justice Department was removed from his listing on the association's Web site. He declined to comment.

The work phone number, e-mail address and biography of counterterrorism adviser Frances Fragos Townsend also were removed at her request after McClatchy contacted the White House.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Townsend "is a member in her personal capacity. That is perfectly lawful." He added that Townsend told him "she's not active really at all."

Former and current Justice Department officials said the Web site listings were an example of how government lawyers had become more open about their political leanings as federal agencies took a more permissive - even encouraging -stance toward partisan political activism.

The concept of political corruption has become adorably quaint at Versailles on the Potomac, but to the rest of us out here in the hinterlands, the idea that current members of a legal organization formed for the express purpose of partisan electioneering are working in the Justice Department seems just a little bit troubling. These guys have the full force of the federal government at their disposal, after all. Federal agencies like the Justice Department taking a more "permissive" stance toward partisan political activism and using the taxpayers money to do it seems like a bad idea if you care about maintaining people's faith in the justice system. (Perhaps they really don't care about that, being the relativists they actually are...)

But hey, even the "liberal Richard Cohen" thinks finding this sort of thing troubling is "criminalizing politics," so best we say no more about it. The decadent insiders have determined that we citizens are being stickers about things we don't understand. Using tax dollars to rig the vote for Republicans is just business as usual.