September 3, 2010
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
A Special Prosecutor for ACORN Corruption?
Following the release of videos last year showing ACORN employees advising investigative journalists on how to skirt housing, child prostitution and tax laws, many speculated that the scandal would finally spell the end of the corrupt “community organization.”
But today ACORN is alive and well, splintered into rebranded local chapters across the country.
“The letters A, C, O, R and N are coming off office doors from New York to California,” The Associated Press reported recently. “Business cards are being reprinted. New signs with new names are popping up in front of offices.”
Meanwhile, ACORN’s “partner in crime,” Project Vote, has just launched a new “non-partisan” voter registration campaign in partnership with the Sierra Club. Under the auspices of its “Voting for America” program, Project Vote will handle “the development of voter registration and quality control protocols; assistance with recruitment, training, and supervision of canvassers; training and materials; and legal services.”
Apparently the Sierra Club is unconcerned that Project Vote employees have been under investigation — and convicted — in a number of states for voter registration fraud. The goal of the voter drive is to “help over 50,000 students of community and four-year colleges in seven states register to vote for the 2010 election.”
Vote for whom, you might ask? We all know the answer to that.
Back in 2006, a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) regarding a Project Vote/ACORN collaboration during the 2004 campaign cycle. According to a draft plan crafted by Brian Kettenring, Project Vote’s Head Organizer in Florida, the ultimate goal of this campaign was to “defeat George W. Bush and other Republicans by increasing Democrat turnout in a close election … and … catalyze the construction of permanent progressive political infrastructure that will help redirect Florida politics in a more progressive, Democratic direction.”
- More Scandal For Congressional Black Caucus
- Obama Shields Govt. Contractors From Disclosure Law
- U.S. Helps Radical Muslim Groups Get Taxpayer Dollars
- DOJ Sues Public Colleges Over Immigration Rule
- State Treasurer Hasn’t Paid Taxes In 10 Years
- ICE Ignores Cos That Hire Illegal Workers
- U.S. Files Discrimination Lawsuits On Behalf Of Muslims
- Senator Kept List Of Favors He Did For Bribes
- Sheriff Works To Protect Illegal Immigrants
So much for being non-partisan.
Last month, Judicial Watch obtained a batch of documents from the FEC related to the ACORN complaint, including the final draft of Kettenring’s plan. ACORN staff wisely scrubbed the most partisan language and persuaded the FEC to dispose of the complaint against it. The words “Democrat” and “Liberal” were replaced by the word “Progressive,” for example. But I think few Americans would be persuaded by such gamesmanship.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to evidence of ACORN’s political partisanship and corruption.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) related to the 2007 investigation and arrest of eight St. Louis, Missouri, workers from ACORN for violation of election laws and voter fraud.
The documents include handwritten notes from FBI investigators interviewing, among others, canvassers. Among the shocking details from the FBI’s interview notes: “ACORN HQ is wkg for the Democratic Party.” Here are a few other highlights.
- [ACORN] “Told employees not to talk to the FBI. ‘FBI trying to intimidate you.’”
- Fraudulent cards:
- To cause confusion on election day to keep polls open longer
- To allow people who can’t vote to vote.
- To allow to vote multiple times.
- Project Vote will pay them whether cards fake or not — whatever they had to do to get the cards was attitude.
- Constantly threatened
- Staff restricted on what to say to FBI
- “Poverty pimpin” [sic] ACORN
- ACORN HQ is wkg for the Democratic Party.
- PV [Project Vote] pays ACORN $6.00 per card … Said “You treat the cards like (cash) $”
- Some [names] went right from the phone book and made up the rest.
- Canvassers: homeless, volatile, drug users, drunks
- Anyone who was against PV (Project Vote) or ACORN’s goals “right wing”
- She thought if she used a completely fake name it would be less like ID Theft … ”Yeah, it’s against the law, I know.”
In April 2008, all eight ACORN employees involved in the scandal pled guilty to voter registration fraud.
In March 2010, Judicial Watch obtained a separate batch of FBI documents detailing federal investigations into alleged ACORN corruption and voter registration fraud in Connecticut. The FBI and Department of Justice initiated these investigations.
However, the Obama Justice Department, while noting that ACORN had engaged in “questionable hiring and training practices,” closed down the investigation in March 2009, claiming ACORN broke no laws.
Remember, this is the same organization that paid “lazy crack heads” to fraudulently register voters, including names like “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck.”
Given all of this evidence, much of it contained in the files of various government agencies, why has there been no comprehensive Obama Justice Department investigation of an organization deemed by at least one congressional report to be a “criminal enterprise?”
Perhaps it has something to do with President Obama’s close ties to ACORN, which is detailed on Obama’s own 2008 campaign website:
When Obama met with ACORN leaders in November, he reminded them of his history with ACORN and his beginnings in Illinois as a Project Vote organizer, a nonprofit focused on voter rights and education. Senator Obama said, “…I’ve been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career. Even before I was an elected official, when I ran Project Vote voter registration drive in Illinois [sic], ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work.”
Well, now ACORN is smack dab in the middle of a massive political corruption scandal.
The calls for the Obama Justice Department to launch a comprehensive probe of ACORN’s activities have been loud and persistent. And they have fallen on deaf ears.
Now is the time for a special prosecutor to do the job the Obama administration is unwilling to do: protect our elections from fraud and hold ACORN and its ally Project Vote accountable to the rule of law.
(This piece first ran in today’s Washington Examiner)
The Wall Street Journal on JW’s Bailout Lawsuit
The Wall Street Journal stated something in a lead editorial this week that Judicial Watch knows all too well: “On the key facts behind the bailouts of 2008, regulators have stonewalled the public, the press and even the inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.”
Judicial Watch is leading a focused and aggressive campaign to uncover the truth about the government’s massive bailout scheme. And, in fact, much of the Journal piece focused on a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits we have filed on behalf of former FDIC employee Vern McKinley.
Here’s a squib from the editorial:
A year ago we told you about former FDIC official Vern McKinley, who has made a series of Freedom of Information Act requests. He wanted to know what Fed governors meant when they said a Bear Stearns failure would cause a “contagion.” This term was used in the minutes of the Fed meeting at which the central bank discussed plans by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to finance Bear’s sale to J.P. Morgan Chase. The minutes contained no detail on how exactly the fall of Bear would destroy America.
He also requested minutes of the FDIC board meeting at which regulators approved financing for a Citigroup takeover of Wachovia. To provide this assistance, the board had to invoke the “systemic risk” exception in the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, and it therefore had to assert that such assistance was necessary for the health of the financial system. Yet days later, Wachovia cut a better deal to sell itself to Wells Fargo, instead of Citi.
So how necessary was the assistance?
That’s exactly what we intend to find out about the federal government’s bailouts. And we’re not only looking at Bear Stearns and Citigroup. We have FOIA requests and lawsuits involving Bank of America, AIG, Lehman Brothers and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Our client, Vern McKinley, sounded the alarm on Fannie and Freddie all the way back in 1997, but no one in Congress was listening.)
So we’re now trillions of dollars into these bailouts and the American people remain completely in the dark as to why they were necessary. Or even if they were necessary.
The Bush and Obama administrations, as to be expected, have been reluctant to shed light on these issues. Still, we have managed to unearth some key government bailout documents.
For example, Judicial Watch forced the release of Treasury Department emails related to the government-brokered acquisition of Wall Street firm Bear Stearns by JP Morgan. According to these documents, JP Morgan officials believed Bear Stearns to be “nearly worthless” just hours before the acquisition deal was announced. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY FRB) supported the deal with $30 billion in funding at the direction of then-Treasury Secretary Henry “Hank” Paulson.
Why did the government believe the collapse of Bear Stearns would cause a “contagion” in the financial markets? And why did Paulson think it necessary to “invest” $30 billion in taxpayer dollars to support the purchase of a “worthless” company? To date, we have no explanation.
In an interview for Judicial Watch’s monthly newsletter, The Verdict, Mr. McKinley said he doesn’t buy the government’s “contagion” theory. He believes government officials were “flying by the seat of their pants” during the financial crisis. They seemingly had little understanding of how investment banks worked, yet they were absolutely certain that there were companies that were “too big to fail.”
The response by the government’s financial agencies to the crisis set into motion a massive expansion of the size and scope of the federal government from which we may never recover. When President Obama took office, he doubled down on the Bush administration’s gamble and now we have a federal government with unprecedented command and control of an economy still in tatters, and virtually no answers from our leaders in government as to how we got here.
Developments in our investigations and litigation are fast-breaking, and I expect to have more for you over the next few weeks.
Judicial Watch Spurs Congressional Ethics Investigation
Is the House Ethics Committee finally on a roll? Fresh off highly publicized congressional ethics investigations involving Democratic Congressmen Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters comes news this week that the Office of Congressional Ethics is now going to probe the House “per diem” scandal.
You will recall that Judicial Watch played a major role in uncovering and publicizing this scandal. And, in fact, on March 31, 2010, JW filed official letters of complaint with the House and Senate Ethics Committees.
It appears the House of Representatives has heard our call.
According to CBS MoneyWatch:
Congressional ethics investigators are interviewing at least a half-dozen legislative leaders, who have pocketed travel allowances in an effort to determine whether they have violated ethical guidelines, according to a continuing series of investigative reports in The Wall Street Journal. But the practice of keeping travel allowance payments raises tax questions as well, experts noted Tuesday. Business travel “per diem” allowances must be tracked or taxed — and it appears that legislators may have done neither…
…But an ethics investigation may be the least of these lawmakers’ worries. Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, says he’s asked for a full accounting of State Department “per diem” funds given to members of Congress. If Congressional leaders did not spend this cash on business — and track those expenses, returning any excess — they’re legally required to report that money as income on their tax returns.
As Judicial Watch argued in its letters of complaint, House ethics rules are crystal clear on the use of congressional per diems:
(1) A member or employee of a committee may not receive or expend local currencies for subsistence in a country for a day at a rate in excess of the maximum per diem set forth in applicable Federal law. (2) A member or employee shall be reimbursed for his expenses for a day at the lesser of — (A) the per diem set forth in applicable Federal law; or (B) the actual, unreimbursed expenses (other than for transportation) he incurred during that day.
Yet, despite these instructions, according to The Wall Street Journal’s investigation, members of Congress have been pocketing the leftover cash for personal use. One former member of Congress, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, said it’s “fairly standard” for members to use the money for personal shopping and, perhaps worse, to buy souvenirs for their “constituents” back home!
So using taxpayer money to buy gifts for constituents (or campaign donors?) is “fairly standard” in Congress?
“In the least, there is evidence of a general misunderstanding among lawmakers that unused per diems may be converted for personal use. At worst, members may be illegally pocketing taxpayer funds,” we wrote in our letters of complaint, while reminding both committees that it is a federal criminal offense to convert public money for personal use.
Many will conjecture that this sudden interest in ethics on the Hill just happens to coincide with election season. And there’s no question politics has played a role in the recent rash of congressional ethics investigations. It always does. Rasmussen confirmed once again in July that “government ethics” ranks high on the list of issues of concern to voters. (It’s second, just behind the economy.)
But no matter the reason, some accountability is better than no accountability. And perhaps the genie is out of the bottle. Now that the congressional ethics machine has sputtered to life, perhaps it will prove to be too tough for congressional leaders to shut it down again.
I’d like to thank our supporters again for their generosity — because it provided the resources to actually initiate a complaint process that has resulted in an official investigation and some accountability for corrupt members of Congress.
And I hope you and yours are able to enjoy the Labor Day holiday.
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life. To make a tax-deductible contribution in support of our efforts, click here.