Saturday, April 21, 2007

The 1,000-year R majority hits some bumps

As Alberto Gonzales nears the end of his career as Attorney General, thanks to his bumbling performance before a Senate committee last week, maybe the focus will shift to the broader issues that got him in so much trouble: the radical politicization of the Department of Justice, along with every other branch of the federal government, in pursuit of long-term Republican dominance. The firing of U.S. Attorneys who resisted the White House's political agenda only revealed a small slice of this agenda, notably Karl Rove's obsession with pursuing spurious "voter fraud" prosecutions as a way of intimidating the political opposition.

In his column for the New York Observer, Joe Conason described the "broader scheme" that was designed to nurture fantasies of a thousand-year Republican majority:
Developed by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, the President’s top political aide, that scheme was evidently designed to advance his objective of discouraging minority voters and others with the bad habit of supporting Democratic candidates. In Republican parlance, such attempts to hamper registration, intimidate citizens and reduce turnout in targeted communities are lauded as “combating voter fraud.” Several of the fired U.S. Attorneys had angered party operatives, including Mr. Rove, because they had shown so little enthusiasm for trumping up fraud cases against Democrats.

Following the 2004 election, David Iglesias, then serving as the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, set up a task force to investigate Republican allegations of fraud. Those accusations boiled down to a single case where a woman had created a handful of phony registrations. (She did so for financial reasons, rather than out of any desire to manipulate the election.) When Mr. Iglesias declined prosecution for lack of airtight evidence, local Republicans began to demand his replacement with a more pliable and less professional prosecutor—a demand eventually fulfilled by Mr. Rove and President Bush.
The Biskupic case in Wisconsin, as noted in a previous posting, fits the overall pattern nicely:
In Wisconsin, by contrast, U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic prosecuted voter-fraud allegations regardless of merit, winning big headlines when he indicted 14 black Milwaukee residents for casting ballots illegally. Nine of those cases were either tossed out or lost in court—an awful result compared with the normal conviction rate of over 90 percent. But at least the mediocre Mr. Biskupic—whose conviction of a Democratic state official was just overturned on appeal—managed to remain in the good graces of the White House and keep his job.

The Republican cry of “voter fraud” is a specious complaint, amplified by right-wing hacks to conceal the fact that in recent years, the most sustained efforts to interfere with orderly elections and voting rights can be traced to the Republican National Committee.

Harassing minority voters with bogus claims of fraud is a venerable tradition in the G.O.P., as anyone familiar with the career of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist would know. Back in the early 60’s, when Rehnquist was just another ambitious young lawyer in Arizona, he ran a partisan campaign to confront black and Hispanic voters over their “qualifications.” Along with many of today’s generation of Republican leaders, he was a stalwart of the Goldwater campaign in 1964, which garnered its handful of electoral votes in the South by opposing the Voting Rights Act.
Karl Rove came on the political scene during the Nixon era. Conason notes:
Under his leadership, the G.O.P. has repeatedly been disgraced by conspiracies to diminish voter participation.
In 2002, Republican operatives used a telemarketing firm to illegally jam Democratic phone banks in New Hampshire to win the U.S. Senate seat now held by John Sununu. In 2004, Florida state officials sent armed officers into certain Orlando neighborhoods to scare elderly black registrants, while Republicans sought to challenge minority voters en masse in communities in Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and paid for the destruction of Democratic voter registrations in Nevada and Oregon.
Actual voter fraud of the kind decried in Republican propaganda is rare, according to nonpartisan experts. Although the White House recently rewrote a careful federal study by the Election Assistance Commission to hide that basic fact, it remains true that very few individuals intentionally seek to fabricate a registration or cast an illegal ballot.
Naturally there are exceptions, as Conason is quick to observe, "most notably illustrated by Republican celebrity Ann Coulter:"
When the far-right columnist and television personality registered to vote in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2005, she wrote down the address of her realtor’s office rather than her own home address. She then signed the form, despite its plain warning that falsifying any information on it would make her liable to felony prosecution—and which she, as a lawyer, surely understood. According to Palm Beach County election officials, she also voted in the wrong precinct the following year, disregarding a poll worker who explained her error. (Coulter fans can view her dubious voter-registration form online at [And a lot more here.]

If proved, those acts would be crimes punishable by prison terms of up to five years, but Ms. Coulter has stonewalled the ongoing investigation. (She says the Palm Beach officials are syphilitic and mentally defective.) No charges have been filed so far, perhaps because her lawyer is a prominent Republican who worked on Bush v. Gore in 2000—and whom the President then appointed as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. He must know a lot about voter fraud.
But now back to Wisconsin and USA Biskupic's humiliating attempt to prosecute Georgia Thompson on corrupation charges.

The three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has just (April 20th) issued a unanimous 14-page opinion supporting its extraordinary decision to free Thompson on April 5th. She was accused of obtaining a "private benefit" from her decision to award a state contract to a travel agency which had made a political contribution to a (surprise!) Democratic candidate for governer. The court held (on page 13) that "neither an increase in salary for doing what one’s superiors deem a good job, nor an addition to one’s peace of mind, is a 'private benefit' for the purpose of [a federal criminal prosecution]." The opinion concludes:
This prosecution, which led to the conviction and imprisonment of a civil servant for conduct that, as far as this record shows, was designed to pursue the public interest as the employee understood it, may well induce Congress to take another look at the wisdom of enacting ambulatory criminal prohibitions. Haziness designed to avoid loopholes through which bad persons can wriggle can impose high costs on people the statute was not designed to catch.
In the end, the Thompson case demonstrates the effects of combining overly broad federal laws with a zealous prosecutor who has transparent political motives.

PHOTO: Ann Coulter spewing venom at the Republican convention in 2004.

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