Anonymous Attacks Against LA Progressives

This summer, an organization called Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) finds itself the target of dozens of baseless public records requests instigated by an anonymous right wing entity apparently seeking to intimidate and harass the organization.

LAANE has long fought for policies to raise wages, protect the environment, and enhance community input on new box stores. In other words, they have gotten in the way when giant corporations have put profit maximization over the rights of workers, consumers, and communities. Perhaps that is why they now find themselves the subject of an extensive fishing expedition for public records that can be taken out of context and demagogued ad nauseam.

An opposition research company that has worked with conservative candidates and causes in California has sent dozens of letters to public officials across the state demanding all communications between LAANE and more than 70 public officials going back a number of years.

So who hired the opposition research firm? Who is it that is apparently hoping to use public disclosure laws to do a hatchet job on LAANE?

Good question, since they refuse to identify themselves.

At least when conservatives in Wisconsin and Michigan used baseless public records requests to intimidate and harass academics at public universities, we knew which far right pro-corporate entities were doing it (ALEC and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy).

In light of the numerous deceptive actions designed to destroy Planned Parenthood, ACORN, NPR, and Shirley Sherrod, it is more important than ever to fight right wing efforts to smear people and organizations who they see as standing in the way of their agenda.

People For the American Way stands with LAANE in demanding an end to the anonymous attack, and you can, too, by signing this petition calling on those who are behind the attack on LAANE to reveal their identities. Democracy is strengthened by the free and robust exchange of ideas and arguments, not by anonymous efforts to intimidate and discredit those who disagree with you.

PFAW

‘What You Talkin’ Bout, Willard?’

If you watched TV in the 1980s, you surely remember this:

The TV show Diff’rent Strokes – which featured the iconic tagline “What you talkin’ bout, Willis”? – was produced by PFAW’s founder Norman Lear.

And when Norman heard that Mitt Romney – whose first name is actually Willard – was running for president, it rang a bell.

In a piece in Variety this week, Norman asks Willard Mitt Romney exactly what he is talking about:

"What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?"

By Norman Lear

I don't have to explain that line to Americans who grew up watching one of our production company's sitcoms, "Diff'rent Strokes", which ran for eight seasons between 1978 and 1986 and for years after in syndication. Any one who knows the show will recall this signature phrase repeated by the young Gary Coleman to his older brother when stupefied and maddened by something his brother just said, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?"

I know some people think Willard Mitt Romney is the only responsible adult
i n that implausible field of presidential hopefuls, but often he will say
 something so surprising and disingenuous in this seemingly endless campaign, 
I find myself thinking, 'What you talkin' bout, Willard?

Absent a profanity, I don't know a better reaction to Romney's declaration 
that "corporations are people." Of course he'd be correct if the people
 he's referring to are the billionaire Koch brothers. Or if they are the 
people who are setting up phony corporations for the purpose of supporting
 Willard Mitt Romney's candidacy with million dollar gifts, and they could of 
course include the Kochs.

"What you talkin' bout, Willard?" leaps to mind at the thought of the natty
 Harvard-educated Wall Street executive and former Massachusetts governor 
railing against "eastern elites" at the last Republican National Convention. And it aches to be shouted out when I am reminded that Willard Mitt Romney, 
seeking someone to head his legal team, chose a man whose reactionary views
 about the U.S. Constitution led to a bi-partisan Senate vote to keep him off 
the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.

Willard's embrace of Bork, despite his angry rants since then, such as those
 calling for active government censorship of popular culture, is clearly 
meant to signal far-right activists that they can count on more Supreme
 Court Justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, who are all
 energetically working to make Romney's assertion that "corporations are 
people" a legal reality.

What are you talkin' bout, Willard?

 

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

James O’Keefe Discredited—Again

When will leaders in politics and the media stop believing right-wing smear artist James O’Keefe? Known for his “sting videos,” O’Keefe has been consistently discredited for his work against ACORN, CNN, a U.S. Senator, and now, NPR.

An analyst for The Blaze, a conservative website, found that the videos were heavily doctored and quoted the NPR executives out of context. Reflecting on the analysis, Politico’s Ben Smith said, “I regret having, even in what I thought was a cautious way, picked up the story”

This wasn’t the first time O’Keefe doctored videos, as he performed the same malicious editing in his “sting” of the civic group ACORN. A probe into the videos by California’s Attorney General found no criminal activity by ACORN employees and said O’Keefe’s videos reflect “highly selective editing of reality.” Later, O’Keefe was arrested and convicted for attempting to tamper with the phones of US Senator Mary Landrieu’s office and also was caught trying to humiliate a CNN reporter when one of his own coworkers called him out.

Currently, Republicans in Congress are trying to defund NPR and PBS, and leading Republicans quickly embraced O’Keefe’s undercover videos, which were deceptively edited to show NPR officials speaking critically of the Tea Party and conservatives.

US Senator Dick Durbin told the GOP to drop its plan to defund public broadcasting and stop using O’Keefe’s discredited videos as an excuse:

If the name James O' Keefe rings a bell with members of the United States Senate it should. Remember some of the other things he was caught doing?... Mr. O'Keefe is obviously not worried about breaking a law if he thinks he is going to come up with a sensational video. He was convicted in Louisiana as I mentioned earlier.

Not only should Republicans stop paying O’Keefe attention, but so should media personalities like Chris Wallace of Fox News who lauded the smear artist as “power player of the week.” But while O’Keefe may be able to win attention for himself, he continues to lose all credibility.

PFAW

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:

Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.



“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services that help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies and provide screenings for cervical and other cancers.

We are writing to inform you that our organizations stand united in opposition to any effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

These attacks are not about the issue of choice. Instead they are designed to systematically vilify and destroy institutions dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens with "evidence" that does not support their claims. They're about disempowering those who don’t share their world view. And they're about intimidating those in desperate need of help.

Your constituents sent you to Washington to be a strong advocate for their interests and stand up for the quintessential American values of justice and fairness -- and this latest digital witch hunt is neither just nor fair.

Sincerely,

Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

Accountable America

African American Ministers in Action

Alliance for Justice

Center for Community Change

Center for Media & Democracy

Common Cause

Courage Campaign

CREDO Action

Demos

EMILY's List

Feminist Majority Foundation

Friends of the Earth

Keystone Progress

Media Matters Action Network

Midwest Academy

MoveOn.org Political Action

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National People's Action

People For the American Way

ProgressNow

Project Vote

Public Campaign

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

USAction

Voices for Progress
PFAW

ACORN Cleared of Voter Fraud Charges in Connecticut

As the Right revs up its efforts to discredit and defund Planned Parenthood, it’s important to remember its last attempt to bring down a national organization through sheer force of repeated falsehoods.

ACORN, which at its height was the largest anti-poverty organization in the country and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, became a political pariah in the 2008 elections after right-wing organizations and politicians hyped up charges that individual ACORN employees had made up names on voter registration forms and a video by now-renowned prankster James O’Keefe purported to show ACORN employees cooperating with criminals. The problem was, of course, that these allegations were either over-hyped or just plain false. O’Keefe’s video was found to be heavily edited and misleading. The handful of ACORN employees who filled voter registration forms with false names did so to cheat ACORN out of their paychecks, and never had any plan to commit voter fraud. The Government Accountability Office found that ACORN had not misused federal money. But by then, the organization had lost its federal funding and disbanded.

Now, ACORN has been cleared of another one of the charges levied against it, voter fraud in Connecticut. The Connecticut Post reports:

Following a two-year probe, state investigators have cleared the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now of charges of voter fraud brought by Republican registrars in Bridgeport and Stamford.

"The evidence does not provide a sufficient basis to determine that Connecticut ACORN had an institutional or systematic role in designing and implementing a scheme or strategy to fraudulently register or enroll electors ... prior to the November 2, 2008 election," read the recent report from the Elections Enforcement Commission.

The commission's investigation took a close look at the nuts and bolts of ACORN's operation, including copies of thousands of voter registration applications.

ACORN paid workers, who were screened using prior employment records, a flat $8 an hour to canvass neighborhoods and register voters, regardless of how many completed cards were handed in at the end of a shift. Workers had to initial each card they collected and supervisors reviewed batches of completed cards to determine if they surpassed a threshold of 30 percent deficient.

Because ACORN under state law was required to turn in all cards to registrars, the organization would identify at the top those identified as defective -- an effort to avoid the very complaints filed by Borges and Corelli.

Although charges against ACORN keep on being dismissed, the damage against the organization and the people it served has been huge. And the efforts to slam the organization are continuing—just this week Sen. David Vitter introduced the “Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act.” We need to make sure that this sort of political takedown—where lies are repeated as the truth until it doesn’t matter anymore— doesn’t happen again.
 

PFAW

Horrible, Terrible Anti-Choice Bill Now Only Terrible

The House GOP met with widespread outrage last week when the news broke that a radical anti-abortion bill it is backing would, among other things, exclude many instances of rape from already very limited federal abortion coverage. The bill, written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would have only allowed for abortion coverage for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape”—a radical redefinition of rape that would exclude instances where a woman is drugged, statutory rape of a minor, and many instances of date rape.

The swift response from pro-choice groups and strong outcry from Americans (including a popular Twitter campaign) has now led the House GOP to back down on the rape provision, removing “forcible” from the language in the bill. But Smith’s bill, if passed, would still be disastrous for reproductive choice rights. The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” which has 173 Republican co-sponsors, would make the Hyde Amendment—the provision that prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion—permanent and apply it to all areas of the federal budget. It would, among other restrictions, prohibit people who use federal subsidies for private insurance coverage from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion—thereby jeopardizing abortion coverage on the private market.

The fight over the bill coincided with another right-wing attempt to limit reproductive choice, particularly that of low-income women—an anti-choice group’s ACORN-style video hoax attempting to bring down Planned Parenthood. The hoax, a nationwide “sting” intended to prove that Planned Parenthood cooperates with child prostitution rings, in fact proved the opposite—Planned Parenthood promptly reported visits from activists claiming to be child sex traffickers to the FBI. But the Religious Right has been quick to jump on the videos and publicize them in their latest attempt to discredit and stop federal funding for reproductive health organizations.

As Jamelle Bouie points out in the American Prospect today, attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive health care are not only dangerous for women—especially low-income women who rely on government assistance and organizations like Planned Parenthood—but hurt programs that actually lower the instances of unwanted pregnancy:

Here are the facts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the medical costs of unintended pregnancy range from increased likelihood of infant and maternal illness, to a greater likelihood of abortion. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to expose the fetus to tobacco or alcohol, and as mothers, are less likely to breast feed. Children of such pregnancies are at greater risk of low birth rate, abuse, poor development, and death in the first year. Fertility isn't a "pathological condition," but the problems of unintended pregnancy are so significant that, as Guttmacher notes, the Centers for Disease Control cites its own work to prevent unintended pregnancy as "one of the top 10 public-health achievements of the 20th century.

While many women will carry an unintended pregnancy to term, many others won't, and the data bears this out. When asked their reasons for having an abortion, three-quarters of women cited concern or responsibility for other individuals, three-quarters said that they couldn't afford a child, and three-quarters said that another child would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents. Indeed, among women who have obtained abortions, about 61 percent had one or more children. The implications are clear: You can't help families and you can't lower the abortion rate without ensuring access to affordable reproductive health care.

This chart  (from Planned Parenthood via Daily Kos) shows the services that Planned Parenthood provided in 2008--services essential to helping millions of women prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregancies:

The Right’s multi-front war against reproductive choice and access to reproductive health care is not going to be stopped by reason or compassion. But, as the victory over the GOP’s redefinition of rape shows, it can be stopped by the voices of those committed to fighting back.

Click here to sign a letter to President Obama and Members of Congress in support of Planned Parenthood.


 

PFAW

Election Day Voter "Fraud" and Intimidation

Election Day saw a number of efforts to intimidate or trick Democrats out of their constitutional right to vote, stoke fear of rampant voter fraud, and delegitimize possible victories by Democrats. (See here for the days leading up to Tuesday). Here are a few examples:

  • Minnesota vote challengers were so aggressive they had to be reined in by election officials.
  • Also in Minnesota, the state Republican chair blamed voting machine failures and other problems on "[Democratic Secretary of State] Mark Ritchie and his ACORN buddies."
  • In Nevada yesterday, Sharron Angle filed a voter intimidation complaint with DoJ over an e-mail from a Reid campaign worker to a local casino urging it to ensure that employees had a chance to vote.
  • In Maryland, Democrats received telephone calls late on Election Day telling them that O’Malley had won and they could "relax" (i.e., not vote).
  • In Texas, African Americans were subjected to a flier telling them that a vote for the entire Democratic ticket would be counted as a vote for the Republican ticket instead.
PFAW

In an Open Letter, People For Urges ABC to Distance Itself from Breitbart

Right-wing activist and noted smear concocter Andrew Breitbart announced Friday that he would be appearing on ABC News tomorrow as an election night "analyst." Faced with backlash from progressive groups, ABC News has said that Breitbart will appear only as a guest on an online town hall discussion. In an open letter to ABC News President David Westin today, People For's Michael Keegan responds that providing any sort of platform for Breitbart legitimizes his deceitful practices:

Dear Mr. Westin:

We at People For the American Way are deeply concerned to hear of your plans to host activist Andrew Breitbart as an ABC News election night “analyst” on Tuesday, and want to make sure you are aware of the implications of any association between ABC News and Breitbart’s history of deceptive mudslinging. Breitbart has proven time and again that he is willing to make up stories and smear the names of innocent people in order to draw attention to himself and advance his political causes. By associating with Breitbart, ABC News acknowledges the credibility of his dishonest tactics, and draws its own credibility as a news source into question.

We respect ABC News’ commitment to balanced analysis, and expect that any unbiased news source will seek to provide equal platforms to each side of any debate. However, part of the responsibility of providing balanced news is ensuring that those participating in the debate are approaching the issues honestly and dealing in facts.

Andrew Breitbart, far from dealing in facts, has a long history of fabricating smears in order to advance his own agenda:

  • He famously doctored a recording of Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod speaking about overcoming racism in order to accuse her of racism. His smear led to Sherrod’s firing, but even more troubling, served to stoke existing racial resentment against the Obama Administration.
  • His pushing of a tape that supposedly showed an ACORN employee helping a pimp and prostitute to establish a brothel helped to drive the smear campaign that eventually brought down the respected community organization. Independent investigations  later found the tapes to be heavily edited and the storyline that Breitbart pushed to be far from the truth. Breitbart’s smear of ACORN helped to propel the right-wing media’s current fixation on the discredited fear of “voter fraud” resulting from minority voting.
  • Breitbart is currently engaged in another fishy media campaign in Alaska, where he has accused a local CBS affiliate of concocting a plot against Senate candidate Joe Miller…but the only evidence he has been able to produce is a fuzzy audio clip that hardly substantiates his claim.

Andrew Breitbart has every right to continue spewing his lies and conspiracy theories on the Internet, but his deceptive “analysis” has no place in an honest debate on an unbiased news program. Even including him in an online feature, as you have now said you will, lends a legitimate platform to his lies. And providing that platform makes ABC News complicit in Breitbart’s deliberate, excuseless smears.

We urge you to reconsider your invitation to Andrew Breitbart before providing a platform to harmful smears and putting your own reputation as a news source at risk.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan.
President, People For the American Way
 

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW