ACORN suspicion swells as McCain camp questions Obama’s ties
Warning of a plot to steal the election, the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain took aim Friday at a liberal group facing voter registration complaints and charges in key battleground states, including Wisconsin.
A day after McCain told a town hall meeting in Waukesha that the group should be investigated, campaign manager Rick Davis charged Friday that Democrat Barack Obama is not being honest about his ties to the group.
A Democratic spokesman dismissed the charges made by the GOP as “completely transparent and false.” And Democrats note that an investigation by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, appointed by President Bush, turned up no widespread fraud in the 2004 election.
The group is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN. The group has boasted of registering some 1.3 million voters, often minorities and the poor, mainly in battleground states.
Its workers and tactics, however, have come under scrutiny in about 11 states, and some workers face possible criminal charges.
In one Indiana county, officials say 2,000 forms were bogus. In Nevada, workers are accused of using the Dallas Cowboys roster on forms. Officials there raided an ACORN office this week.
A host of other instances have been cited: fake names, bad addresses, dead people.
In Milwaukee, where ACORN turned in at least 33,000 registrations, the group improperly used felons as registration workers. Additionally, its workers are among 49 cases of bad registrations sent to authorities for possible charges, as first reported by the Journal Sentinel.
A city election official said Friday that about 90% of the 49 cases were workers for ACORN, with nearly all of the rest part of the Community Voters Project. The 49 individuals submitted about 300 registration cards, all sent to authorities for review.
So far, two people, both with the voters project, have been charged with felonies.
“We don’t feel this election is something that should be stolen from the American electorate,” Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said in a conference call.
“Barack Obama ought to come clean about his relationship with ACORN,” Davis said. “He’s clearly not telling the truth.”
The statements, along with a new ad from McCain posted on the Internet, are part of an amped-up effort to raise questions about Obama and his background, including his ties to the group as an organizer, attorney and trainer.
The Obama campaign has denied he ever trained ACORN workers.
Records show that as a private attorney, Obama and two others from his firm represented ACORN in a 1994 lawsuit on voter registration issues.
In February, after the group’s political arm endorsed Obama, an ACORN affiliate received $800,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts. The campaign initially listed the purpose as “event activity” — a discrepancy the GOP argues was to hide the intent.
An Obama spokesman dismissed the GOP charges Friday as false and shameful.
“Barack Obama strongly condemns voter registration fraud or any other breach of election law by any party or group,” said campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor. “He believes that the registration of voters at record levels is good for our democracy and the McCain-Palin campaign’s false claims are nothing more than another dishonorable, shameful attempt to divert voters’ attention from the unprecedented challenges facing their families and our nation.”
The issue is broader than Friday’s exchange.
Republicans say ACORN is engaged in widespread fraud, an effort focused on battleground states.
In Missouri, for instance, eight ACORN workers in the St. Louis area pleaded guilty in April to charges of federal election fraud related to registration cards in the 2006 election. This year, Kansas City officials have asked the FBI for help in reviewing hundreds of dubious cards submitted by the group.
“The only reason to commit registration fraud is to commit voting fraud on election day,” said Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, who participated in the McCain campaign conference call.
Democrats say the GOP charges of widespread election fraud are overblown.
Many point to Wisconsin, where Journal Sentinel reports on problems with the 2004 presidential election, including improper votes by felons and thousands more ballots cast than voters listed as having voted, prompted an extensive review by federal and local authorities.
Numerous cases of fraud were found, with officials saying sloppy records prevented more charges. But Biskupic said there was no evidence of an organized effort to steal the election.
Democrats argue the GOP is pushing the issue, along with other efforts, to hold down turnout Nov. 4 in Democratic areas and to raise fears among their base so as to boost turnout.
In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has filed a lawsuit to try to force the state Government Accountability Board to complete a cross-check of all registrants since January 2006, as called for under federal law. The board says it has started checking new registrations since Aug. 6, but that there’s not enough time to check those before that date.
In a court filing this week, the state GOP said those checks should begin in Milwaukee, because of the allegations involving ACORN and the Community Voters Project.
ACORN officials say they review all the cards submitted by their workers and flag problematic ones for authorities. That happened with some of the cards submitted in Milwaukee.
Four years ago, after some workers in Wisconsin were charged with submitting fake names, state law was changed to forbid paying workers by the signatures collected.
The charges filed in the Milwaukee cases recently indicate the workers faced a quota-type system.
“For most of the individuals who have been hired to do this work, their primary focus is preserving their jobs,” said Neil Albrecht, deputy director of the city election office. “This was an employment opportunity for them in tough economic times.”
He said the state should review the question of quota-type demands on paid workers.
Albrecht said, “If you have to come up with 25 voter registration applications by the end of the day, you’re going to come up with the 25 voter registrations.”
Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff and wire reports contributed to this story.
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