PARTISANS DISCUSS 'REFORM'
Questions surface regarding legitimacy of Baker-Carter election reform commission
By Larisa Alexandrovna | RAW STORY Staff
Serious questions of conservative partisanship have surfaced surrounding an electoral reform commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and erstwhile Secretary of State James Baker, RAW STORY has learned.
Election reform? Republicans and Democrats embark on election reform with help from voting companies, front groups, pundits and a few genuine election reform groups peppered in.
The Carter Center denies any involvement with the Baker-Cater Commission on Federal Election Reform even though they are on much of its literature. Carter stepped down from the center in March.
Perhaps most significant, however, is the partisan makeup of those on the Commission's panels. In a situation reminiscent of GOPUSA and Gannongate, a recent election reform group has seemingly sprouted from nowhere and in short order landed a seat at the table.
As revealed earlier by Brad Friedman of Bradblog.com, The American Center for Voting Rights appeared on the election reform scene less than a month ago. It is led by GOP operative and election attorney Mark F. ("Thor") Hearne who also managed to appear as the only voting rights group to Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) recent House Administrative Committee hearings on Ohio voting issues during the 2004 election.
ACVR is not, however, the only controversial entity to appear as either a witness or a panelist before the Baker-Carter Commission.
Highly Credentialed Republican “Non-Partisans”
Hearne, who delivered a 31-page document to Ney’s Committee assessing Ohio’s 2004 election issues, did not reveal during the hearings that he was until very recently the national general counsel for the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign.
Hearne was also general counsel to Gov. Matt Blunt (R–MO) for the 2004 election; counsel to the Bush/Cheney ’04 ticket; and also served as an attorney for the Bush/Cheney 2000 campaign.
The contact for ACVR is also a Republican operative, former communications director for the Republican National Committee Jim Dyke.
Dyke pioneered “astroturf” letters, or letters to the editor that appear to be written by constituents but instead are drafted by political operatives. During the 2004 election, Dyke traveled the country creating what appear to be front groups to disseminate anti-Kerry disinformation. He was also the source of many of the registration irregularity complaints generated in Ohio, and recently set up a Social Security lobby group.
As a spokesman for the RNC, Dyke commented on the Purple Heart bandages he helped distribute: “Democrats continue to try and hide their own candidates’ many positions on the same issue (Iraq) by attacking the president’s leadership.”
ACVR, which is neatly located at a Texas P.O. Box, was invited to join the Baker-Carter Commission on Federal Election Reform within weeks of its formation.
To help publicize ACVR, team Dyke and Hearne turned to Cybercast News Service, which has intimate connections to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, Unfit for Command—a character assassination of Kerry’s Vietnam years—and to the CBS memo controversy through a mutual relationship with Creative Response Concepts a PR firm that deals in political battles.
Mapping it Out:
[Readers should go to the original story to see the map.]
The mysteries surrounding ACVR as well as its various connections to highly partisan groups, to some of the members of the commission and to some of the witnesses and speakers are so complex that RAW STORY had to create a visual representation of entanglements in order to better clarify on how this group may have developed.
After seeing the full map (which will be published this evening), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who held Congressional hearings on Ohio’s election irregularities and fueled the effort for the Ohio electoral challenge, issued the following statement Thursday.
“These connections truly are astounding,” Conyers said. “It apparently wasn't enough that Republican officials helped sway the election in favor of Bush—now they've even created a phony voting rights group to combat the real work that progressives are doing to make sure that every vote is counted.”
Panel choices have partisan ties
Ethics and Integrity Panel:
John Fund is a highly partisan Wall Street Journal editorial board member who has repeatedly attacked election reform activists as conspiracy theorists, stating "When it comes to electronic voting, most liberals are just plain old-fashioned nuts."
Colleen McAndrews is a partner in a law firm representing Governor Schwarzenegger and the treasurer for his campaign. She is considered to be a “behind the scenes force in the Republican Party.”
Elections and Help America Vote Act Current Status Panel:
Kay J. Maxwell is president of the non partisan League of Women Voters, whose strong support for a paperless ballot, despite the demands of hundreds of its members, split the League (here and here).
Gracia Hillman is the chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which is an official part of HAVA. She was appointed by President Bush.
Voting Technology and Election Administration Panel:
Jim Dickson is the Vice President for Governmental Affairs, American Association of People with Disabilities, a highly regarded non-partisan group. He has called all who question electronic voting "geeks."
Other members of the various panels are perhaps more representative of the election reform movement, including David Dill of VerifiedVoting.org; Barbara Arnwine the executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and Richard L. Hasen who is a law professor and legal blogger.
A spokesman and senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who conceded the election over Ohio, said the Commission's attempt at electoral reform was "deceptive."
"It's as deceptive as it is dishonest,” David Wade, the senator’s communications director, said.
“Talk about a window into the Republicans' sincerity on electoral reform,” he added. “This is the height of cynicism. First they cook the intelligence on Iraq, now they create a shadowy operation to hide the truth on electoral reform…With news like this, it's pretty clear the Republicans have other plans."
The Commission Omission
James A. Baker III, the Texas attorney who represented the Bush/Cheney campaign during the 2000 election suit in Bush v. Gore and Secretary of State to President George H. W. Bush, will co-chair the election reform commission along with President Carter.
The Commission on Federal Election Reform will be hosted by American University’s Center for Democracy and Election Management and in association with Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, electionsonline.org, and the Carter Center.
But RAW STORY has learned that the Carter Center flatly denies any involvement with the Commission, even though the Center is listed on all of the Commission’s materials and official Web site. This is despite the fact that Carter has stepped down from the Center and that the Center is not endorsing or working in association with the commission.
“They must have just phrased it that way because President Carter headed this organization,” said a confused Tynesha Green, a spokesperson for the Carter Center. “But I know for a 100 percent that there is no program [at the Carter Center] that is involved with it.”
RAW STORY contacted President Carter, but he was unavailable for comment. Baker’s assistant slammed the phone down without comment. ElectionLine did not return calls placed to its founder Doug Chapin.
Commission for all?
The Commission is open to attendance by the public via application. Carter, Baker and the panel will be housed in a private room and teleconferenced into the Kay Center which seats 250 people and in which the public will be housed.
Many applying for one of the 250 coveted seats found that they were required to provide background information for security reasons.
The Secret Service, however, says that they have no knowledge of this event, not even knowing who was on the advance team. The Service provides security for former presidents.
Through their spokesperson Lorie Lewis, the Service expressed that such precautions were odd given that the public would be sequestered from the entire panel and seated in a large auditorium.
Lewis contacted American University, after which she confirmed to a RAW STORY researcher that her initial assessment was accurate.
“It was reasonable to do the checks for the people in the small enclosed room,” Lewis said, but saw no reason for conducting checks of the public attending the Kay Center viewing of the event.
A spokesperson at the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University, Nicole M. Byrd, expressed concern surrounding the confusion of attendance screening, but said that audience members were screened should an opening become available in the private room.
“We are only asking for background information of people interested in sitting in the smaller room with the President,” Byrd said.
One individual applying to the convention confirmed that she was told that if she wanted to be in the panel room along with the speakers and witnesses, then she would have to provide background information; otherwise, she did not have to provide any personal information beyond the normal application.
Byrd explained that should the panel room have “no-shows” or extra room, she will have to pull people in from the Kay Center. “It is simply that if anyone from the public wishes to be pulled in should space become available,” says Byrd, “then they need to tell us in advance of their interest.”
Byrd also expressed concern about people randomly sending in their Social Security numbers when “only background checks on people attending the in the smaller room” would be required.
Absence of a progressive voice
Many election reform activist groups find it difficult to believe that Congressman Conyers was not invited to sit on any of the panels, though he was invited to sit in the Kay Center along with the public to watch the commission via live feed.
In speaking with RAW STORY, a source close to American University explained that this would be a good event that should help expand the HAVA laws. When asked about what particular incidents and/or allegations would be addressed, the source only identified paper trails as a major point.
This reporter pointed out that the Conyers’ report, the document that essentially resulted in the historic Ohio electoral challenge did not seem to be part of the panelists’ discussion topics and asked why it was that Conyers was relegated to watching the events via a live feed instead of sitting on a panel. The source said not inviting Conyers was simply “a missed opportunity.”
In a letter sent to Carter on Monday of this week, Conyers asked to participate in the commission. He has not been invited.
Raw Story researcher Muriel Kane contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Raw Story is non-financial affiliate of the media reform arm of Velvet Revolution, a group that works on electoral reform.
Article originally published Apr. 14, 2005.
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