Judicial Watch • Obama’s War on Transparency

Obama’s War on Transparency

Obama’s War on Transparency

AUGUST 26, 2011

August 26, 2011

From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Is the Justice Department Partnering with Scandal-Plagued Project Vote?

That is the question at the center of a new Judicial Watch investigation.

On August 19, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain records related to the agency’s communications with Estelle Rogers, a former ACORN attorney who currently serves as the Director of Advocacy for the ACORN-connected organization Project Vote, President Obama’s former employer.

Judicial Watch is investigating the extent to which the Obama DOJ and Project Vote are partnering in a national campaign to use the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) to register more individuals on public assistance, widely considered a key voting bloc for the Obama 2012 campaign.

Here’s what we’re after with our FOIA request filed on June 23, 2011: “All records of communications between the Department of Justice and Estelle Rogers, Director of Advocacy for Project Vote. The timeframe for this request is January 2, 2009, to June 23, 2011.”

The DOJ was required by law to respond to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request within 30 working days, or by August 5, 2011. (U.S. Postal Service records indicate the DOJ received Judicial Watch’s request on June 28, 2011.) As of the lawsuit’s filing, the DOJ has neither produced the records requested nor responded with the date when they will be forthcoming. (Nothing new there.)

Now, we already know that Project Vote is corrupt. We also know that the organization is putting a full-court press on key swing states to manipulate voter registration laws in order to “get out the vote” for Obama and the Democrats in 2012. And leading that charge is Estelle Rogers.

Rogers, a former attorney for ACORN, 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. By threatening lawsuits under Section 7 of the NVRA, Project Vote has aggressively sought to force election officials in various states to increase the registration of people receiving public assistance. (Under Section 7, states are required to offer voter registration services at all public assistance agencies, including unemployment offices and food stamp offices.)

And this corrupt campaign is working.

Just a few weeks ago, 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.

This is nothing new. Project Vote and ACORN have both been linked to serious incidents of voter registration fraud, including criminal activity. In fact, Project Vote’s “Field Director” Amy Busefink, who handled the online registration campaign for Colorado, entered an Alford plea to two gross misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters in Nevada while working for ACORN. (An Alford plea is a guilty plea where the defendant does not admit the act or assert innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.)

In addition to pursuing public agency registration cases in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia and New Mexico, Project Vote also filed a lawsuit on April 19, 2011, in partnership with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), against the State of Louisiana alleging violations of the NVRA.

And where does the DOJ fit into all of this? That’s what we’re investigating.

We do know that less than three months after the Project Vote/NAACP Louisiana lawsuit, on July 12, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division/Voting Section sued the state 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 had previously sued the State of Rhode Island on March 11, 2011, alleging violations of the NVRA. (Project Vote posted a nice little press release on its website promoting the lawsuit.) Ultimately, the DOJ lawsuit 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. So it’s not as if this is a common practice.

In our opinion, there is certainly the appearance that Project Vote and the Obama DOJ are working in tandem in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. After all, this is the same DOJ that partnered with the ACLU to attack Arizona over its get-tough illegal immigration law and with the NAACP on the decision to drop its voter intimidation lawsuit against the Black Panthers. This DOJ, like no other, is owned and operated by radical leftist special interest groups.

And remember, Barack Obama has deep connections to Project Vote. He served as the Illinois Executive Director of Project Vote in 1992. His campaign paid more than $800,000 to an ACORN organization to help “get out the vote” in his successful primary campaign against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Our concern is that Project Vote’s activities remain a threat to the integrity of our elections. The fact that Project Vote is bullying states to attack election security reforms in order to register Obama’s “Food Stamp Army” comes as no surprise. But it appears that the Obama DOJ is using the same playbook as Project Vote – to the detriment of clean elections.

The American people deserve to know if the nation’s highest law enforcement agency has become nothing more than a political tool to help this scandalous ACORN-front group re-elect Barack Obama. And yet again, this DOJ can’t seem to be bothered to comply with basic open records FOIA law. So we are now in court to force them to respond.

Incredibly, the day after we announced our lawsuit, the Obama campaign announced that it would be running its own voter registration drive under the very name of “Project Vote.” If the Obama campaign doesn’t care if it is identified with the same “Project Vote” that did so much to try to corrupt the 2008 presidential elections, then one ought to be concerned about what is in store for the integrity of our elections next year!

JW Sues to Find out How Much Taxpayers Spent on Michelle Obama’s Family Trip to Africa

In June, while members of Congress and the Obama White House were debating how to save the country from the debt ceiling crisis, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to take a nice little family vacation to South Africa and Botswana. Of course, the Obama administration line was that this trip was all business. But given the fact that Michelle Obama’s family members were along for the ride, visiting tourist sites around the two countries…well, forgive me for being suspicious.

And how much did all of this cost? We don’t know.

That’s why this week Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Air Force to obtain records related to the trip (which took place June 21-27, 2011). Judicial Watch is seeking the documents to determine details about the trip, and in particular, a breakdown of the costs to taxpayers.

Specifically we’re after the following information through our FOIA request (filed on June 28, 2011):

  • Any and all records concerning mission taskings of First Lady Michelle Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
  • Any and all records concerning transportation costs for Mrs. Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
  • Any and all passenger manifests (DD-2131) for Mrs. Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.

The Air Force acknowledged receiving our request on July 6, 2011. A response to the request was due within 20 working days, or by August 3, 2011. However, as of August 19, 2011, the date of the complaint, the Air Force has failed to produce the records requested or respond with a date that they will be forthcoming.

Michelle Obama claimed the reason for the trip was to encourage young people living in South Africa and Botswana to get involved in national affairs. However, accompanied by her daughters Malia and Sasha; her mother, Marian Robinson; and her niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, the trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, as well as a visit with Nelson Mandela, described by Mrs. Obama as “surreal.” The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.

In the face of a ballooning federal debt and a sinking economy, our question is simple but important: How much did the trip cost?

An analysis by White House Dossier (the blog of White House reporter Keith Koffer, who writes for CongressDaily, National Journal, Roll Call and Politico), the cost to taxpayers for the C-32, the specially configured military version of the Boeing 757 that transported the Obama group back and forth to Africa, cost $430,000 alone. This cost is based on an estimated charge of $12,723 an hour, which is what the Department of Defense charges other federal agencies for use of the aircraft.

If a military cargo plane was included – which typically accompanies a First Lady – the cost of transportation could have escalated by another $200,000, which brings the total to $600,000.

Overall, White House Dossier estimates the total cost could be as high as $800,000, but notes that certain costs, such as Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staff people, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in Africa, cannot be determined without examining records.

That’s why we filed our lawsuit.

On the surface, the trip seems to have been totally unnecessary and was as much an excuse for the Obama family to go on a safari as it was a mission intended to advance the nation’s business in Africa. That’s why we’re after the “mission taskings” information as well. (And, yes, we’re also investigating Mrs. Obama’s controversial vacation trip to Spain that took place last year.)

This is not the first time the Obamas have been accused of wasting taxpayer dollars for personal benefit in the middle of the financial crisis. Remember their infamous “date night” in 2009? Judicial Watch uncovered how the First Couple spent $11,000 taxpayer dollars in Secret Service costs alone so they could go from here in DC up to New York for dinner and a Broadway show. Press reports suggest the President and his entourage, which included White House staff and the press corps, used three military aircraft for the jaunt.

I’ve often said that at the center of the problem of corruption is a sense of entitlement on the part of our elected officials. The Obamas felt entitled to their date night, so who cares if it was on the taxpayer’s dime? Michelle Obama felt entitled to a high-six-figure (at least) trip to Africa with her family.

Just like Nancy Pelosi felt entitled to luxury military travel for her many trips back and forth to her San Francisco district (and other places).

You may recall we uncovered documents indicating that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period — $101,429.14 of which was for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol. And most recently, we uncovered documents showing the widespread use of luxury military aircraft by Members of Congress on Speaker-authorized congressional delegation trips (CODELS).

This nonsense has to stop!

Judicial Watch Sues Obama HUD for Documents Regarding Violation of ACORN Funding Ban

Time after time, we have found that this administration cares not one whit about following basic laws. What does it mean for Congress to pass and the president to sign a law banning a corrupt organization and its affiliates from receiving federal funds? Apparently the Obama administration could care less. As you will recall, the Obama Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded a grant of $79,819 to ACORN spin-off Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA), despite the fact that Barack Obama signed the ACORN funding ban in October 2009. (And despite the fact that the organization was nailed for misappropriating taxpayer funds!)

We want to know how the HUD can justify this decision. So we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit on August 19, 2011, against HUD to obtain records related to the department’s approval of AHCOA as an official “housing agency.”

Pursuant to our FOIA request filed on June 8, 2011, we want access to the following information:

  • Any and all records concerning or relating to the approval of Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) as a housing agency under Section 106(a)(2) of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. This request includes, but is not limited to, a copy of all HUD-9900 forms and supporting documentation submitted by, or on behalf of, AHCOA, as well as all records of communication regarding AHCOA’s approval.
  • Any and all records of all applications(s) for grants submitted by AHCOA to HUD.

Judicial Watch’s FOIA request was received by HUD on June 13, 2011, (according to postal records). The agency was required to respond by July 12, 2011. This is about as narrow and simple a document request that Judicial Watch makes. But as of August 19, 2011, the date of Judicial Watch’s complaint, HUD hasn’t turned over a single document, or even indicated when a response can be expected.

AHCOA was previously known as ACORN Housing Corporation, Inc., an ACORN offshoot. ACORN filed for bankruptcy on November 2, 2010. However, as we’ve pointed out many times in this space, the organization lives on in the form of numerous state organizations and various ACORN-allied entities, such as AHCOA.

Importantly, none of these ACORN entities or spin-offs are supposed to receive federal funds! President Obama signed into law legislation known as the Defund ACORN Act on October 1, 2009, and other congressional actions that cut off most federal funds to ACORN “or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, or allied organizations.” Following an ACORN lawsuit challenging the funding ban, the federal courts in New York upheld the constitutionality of the restrictions on August 13, 2010. In June 2011, the Supreme Court refused to hear ACORN’s appeal of this funding ban.

And yet, a Judicial Watch investigation revealed that on March 1, 2011, despite the ban, HUD announced a $79,819 federal grant to AHCOA to “educate the public and housing providers about their rights and obligations under federal state, and local fair housing laws.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) did issue a controversial advisory opinion in September 2010 stating that AHCOA is not an “allied” organization of ACORN and is therefore not subject to the funding ban. But this is ludicrous. The government’s own website listing federal expenditures identifies the organization receiving the $79,819 grant as “ACORN Housing Corporation Inc.,” and lists ACORN’s New Orleans, Louisiana, address. And AHCOA maintains the same board of directors, executive director, and offices as its predecessor, ACORN Housing Corporation, Inc.

The organization, whether known as ACORN Housing Corporation or Affordable Housing Corporation of America is corrupt and has no business receiving taxpayer funds. As recently as one year ago, ACORN/AHCOA was criticized by HUD’s Inspector General in two separate investigations for misappropriating funds from federal grants.

A November 8, 2010, report by the Inspector General, for instance, documented fraudulent activity by ACORN/AHCOA, finding that the ACORN front group “inappropriately expended more than $3.2 million from its fiscal years 2004 and 2005 grants for the elimination of lead poisoning in its housing program.” The misappropriation included the use of funds “not identified in its grant application’s detailed budgets,” including “campaign services” and “grant fundraising activities.”

(The GAO reported in June 2011 that ACORN and its “potentially related organizations” received over $48 million for fiscal years 2005 through 2009. Despite the 2009 ACORN funding bans, the GAO found that 11 government agencies had taken no steps to implement the bans until at least August, 2010.)

Look, there is no practical difference between ACORN Housing and this rebranded spin-off. And it should go without saying that the federal government should not grant taxpayer funds to an organization with a history of misappropriating federal funds. The ACORN groups’ close connections to Obama shouldn’t guarantee them tax money in violation of law. This grant is a violation of the ACORN funding ban law and an embarrassment for the Obama administration.

And unfortunately, here we have yet another instance of the Obama administration stubbornly refusing to respect the Freedom of Information Act and the rule of law. It seems these days that the Obama administration has opened up yet another war – a war on transparency.

(By the way, the three lawsuits mentioned here today were all filed on the same day by Judicial Watch’s legal team. Kudos to them and our investigators for keeping up the pace against this overreaching Obama administration!)

Until next week…



Tom Fitton
President


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