New Records Obtained by Judicial Watch Show Obama White House Coordination with Department of Justice on Voting Rights Enforcement
JANUARY 19, 2012
ACORN Partner Project Vote Working with Officials from White House and DOJ to Use National Voting Rights Act to Increase Registration of Voters on Public Assistance
Interest Group Urges Justice Official to “make some headway” with Attorney General Holder
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it has received additional documents about meetings held between Estelle Rogers, Director of Advocacy for the ACORN-affiliated organization Project Vote, and officials from the Obama White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Judicial Watch is investigating the extent to which Project Vote, which once employed Barack Obama, has been working with the Obama administration to use voter registration laws to register greater numbers of low-income voters, widely considered to be an important voting demographic for the Obama presidential campaign.
The additional documents, provided in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on August 19, 2011, detail email communications between Rogers and high ranking officials from the Obama White House and DOJ. The following are highlights from the records:
- On April 27, 2009, Estelle Rogers wrote to Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsh regarding an upcoming meeting on April 30, 2009. In addition to Rogers and Hirsh, other attendees included: Nicole Kovite, Director of Public Agency Project for Project Vote; Spencer Overton, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy; and two officials from the Obama White House: Celia Muñoz, then-Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and recently promoted to Director of the Domestic Policy Council; and Tino Cuellar, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy.
In her email, Rogers references documents she forwarded in preparation for the upcoming meeting on the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), to which Hirsch replies that he looks forward to “reading these materials” and to “seeing everyone on Thursday.”
- On February 23, 2011, Rogers wrote to Associate Deputy Attorney General Robert Weiner, asking him to “make some headway with Attorney General [Eric] Holder in enforcing Section 7 of the NVRA.” The email notes that the DOJ had not yet filed any Section 7 lawsuits, which Rogers dubbed “deeply disappointing.” The first such DOJ lawsuit (against Rhode Island) was filed on March 18, 2011, less than one month later. Of particular note, is Rogers’ comment that “We have received oral assurances from [Assistant Attorney General Thomas] Perez on several occasions that enforcement action was imminent,” suggesting that Rogers was privy to internal discussions inside the DOJ regarding pending legal action.
- On March 29, 2011, Rogers wrote to Associate Attorney General [Thomas] Perrelli, urging him to review and “make improvements” to a document she was sending following another meeting held on March 17, 2011 between Project Vote and the DOJ on Section 7 compliance with the NRVA. Accompanying the document was a previous letter she had sent to the Civil Rights Division plus “additional comments on the Q and A.”
On December 14, 2011, Judicial Watch released a separate batch of documents which also detail the partnership between the Obama DOJ and Project Vote.
As Director of Advocacy for Project Vote, Estelle Rogers ‒ a former attorney for ACORN, which was besieged with charges of corruption before declaring bankruptcy in November 2010 ‒ is a primary contact person on policy matters at Project Vote on both state and federal levels and has been actively involved in voter registration issues. Using the threat of a lawsuit under the NVRA, Project Vote has aggressively sought to manipulate voter registration laws in various states to increase the registration of people receiving public assistance.
On August 4, 2011, Judicial Watch released documents obtained from the Colorado Department of State showing that ACORN and Project Vote successfully pressured Colorado officials into implementing new policies for increasing the registration of public assistance recipients during the 2008 and 2010 election seasons. Following the policy changes, the percentage of invalid voter registration forms from Colorado public assistance agencies was four times the national average. Project Vote also sought a “legislative fix” to allow people without a driver’s license or state identification to register to vote online.
In addition to pursuing public agency registration cases in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia and New Mexico, Project Vote and the NAACP filed a lawsuit on April 19, 2011, against the State of Louisiana alleging violations of the NVRA. Less than three months later, on July 12, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division/Voting Section sued Louisiana on the same grounds, claiming that “Louisiana officials have not routinely offered voter registration forms, assistance and services to the state’s eligible citizens who apply, recertify or provide a change address for public assistance or disability services.”
The DOJ’s March 11, 2011, lawsuit against Rhode Island led to policy changes intended to increase the number of voter registration applications processed by “public assistance and disability service officers.” These two lawsuits, filed within five months of each other, are the first such lawsuits filed by the DOJ since 2007.
Project Vote and ACORN have both been linked to massive voter registration fraud. A total of 70 ACORN employees in 12 states have been convicted of voter registration fraud. And as documented in a July 2009 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of the 1.3 million registrations Project Vote/ACORN submitted in the 2008 election cycle, more than one-third were invalid.
“These documents raise fundamental questions about the politicization of the Justice Department under Eric Holder and demonstrate that the ACORN-connected Project Vote is throwing its weight around the Justice Department and driving the agency’s voting rights agenda. And evidently the Obama White House is now directly implicated in this growing scandal,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “It is now clear that Project Vote and the Obama/Holder Justice Department are conspiring to file Justice Department lawsuits to help re-elect Barack Obama. This collusion between Project Vote and the Obama administration is a significant threat to the integrity of the 2012 elections. To have Project Vote involved in the Justice voting rights enforcement is like having the Mafia run the FBI.”