The current scandal involving the firing of U.S. attorneys cannot be separated from the Bush administration's scheme to suppress black, poor and working class voters. In order to divert attention from its voter suppression tactics that won Bush the White House in 2000 and 2004, the Bush administration created the myth of "voter fraud." Using fake "voting rights" organizations, obscure groups to finance civil suits and pressure on the U.S. Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against voter registration organizations, Karl Rove and his political operatives like Mark F. "Thor" Hearne have succeeded in undermining the United States' democracy.
"Hearne was one of the most important Bush operatives that almost nobody in America has ever heard of. He applied his vote-suppressing trade from coast to coast, behind the scenes, in a well-funded systematic effort to undermine democracy and keep voters – Democratic voters – from exercising their legal franchise," Brad Friedman, Editor of Bradblog, told the Free Press. Bradblog was the first to reveal Hearne's masquerade as a voting rights advocate.
Hearne's name recently surfaced in the scandal surrounding the White House's firing of U.S. attorneys causing the mainstream media to begin scrutinizing his past political activity. The National Journal has pointed out that Hearne is a "common denominator" in the firing of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins and western Missouri U.S. Attorney Todd Graves. At the time of the firings, Cummins was investigating Republican Governor Matt Blunt's administration, and Graves had refused to indict when partisan charges were brought against the Association of Communities Organizing for Reform Now (ACORN) for a voter registration drive just prior to the 2006 election.
Columbus mayoral candidate linked to scandal
Republican candidate for mayor of Columbus William Todd has direct ties to two controversial election organizations that are linked to the White House scandal surrounding the firing of U.S. attorneys.
Todd, an attorney at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP, is challenging Columbus' first African American Mayor Michael Coleman in this fall's election. Between 1993 and 2006, Todd served as an attorney at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey whose website stated that, "Mr. Todd served as litigation counsel in these election matters for groups such as the Free Enterprise Coalition, the American Center for Voting Rights and the Ohio Republican Party."
The Free Enterprise Coalition (FEC) and the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) emerged as key players in the Bush administration's voter suppression plan in the 2004 presidential election. Financing from the FEC funded a racketeering charge against grassroots voter registration groups including the NAACP. The ACVR is widely regarded as a fake voting rights organization created to repress minority and poor voters in urban areas while perpetuating the myth of "voter fraud" among Democratic voting blocks.
The Squire, Sanders & Dempsey website also showed Todd as general counsel for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and its affiliated Citizens for a Strong Ohio (CSO). In 2005, the Ohio Election Commission fined the CSO for operating illegally as a Political Action Committee (PAC) and making illegal corporate expenditures to influence Ohio Supreme Court races.
The CSO was also linked directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a legal complaint against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, election rights attorney Cliff Arnebeck exposed the fact that the Chamber had illegally moved $14 million in funds to Republican Supreme Court candidates between 2000-2004, to take over the highest court in Ohio. The role of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove and the Bush White House needs to be explored in more detail.
Brad Friedman of Bradblog, an expert on the ACVR, pointed out that Todd's connection to the ACVR would likely be enough to sink his candidacy. "Even the mainstream media is paying attention now," he said. It will be interesting to see if the Columbus Dispatch reports on Todd's connections to voter suppression groups and his ties to the U.S. attorney scandal.
Hearne "believed that the U.S. attorney . . . Todd Graves was not taking seriously allegations that ACORN workers were registering people who did not qualify to vote," noted the National Journal. Also, Republican attorney William Mateja, "repeatedly contacted" Cummins during the Blunt investigation ". . . at the behest of Hearne, whose law firm [Lathrop & Gage] had retained Mateja on Blunt's behalf," wrote the Journal.
After Graves' dismissal, he was replaced by Bradley Schlozman, who issued an indictment against ACORN workers less than a week before the 2006 election. Cummins was also replaced by Karl Rove operative Timothy Griffin.
The National Journal also reported that two other fired U.S. attorneys, David Inglesias and John McKay, said they believed they were fired because "Republican activists in their states complained that they weren't doing enough to pursue voting-fraud cases."
Who is scrubbing the Thor Hearne websites?
As the heat is turned up on Hearne, his past appears to be vanishing from the internet.
As Bradblog noted on June 12, "Mark F. 'Thor' Hearne must really want to hide something about his discredited past as the frontman for the GOP front group calling themselves the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR)."
Hearne testified before Congressman Bob Ney's Committee on House Administration hearing in Columbus on March 21, 2005 as general counsel for the newly formed "voting rights" group, the ACVR. Incorporated a week before the hearing, the ACVR was ordained by Rep. Ney as a legitimate voting rights group, despite the fact that Hearne served as election counsel to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and had no references on his resume to any non-partisan voting rights groups. Congressman Ney is now known as federal prisoner #28882-016 for corruption as a result of his taking gifts from Jack Abramoff, among other charges.
In February 2005, at the urging of Karl Rove and the Bush White House, Hearne founded the ACVR, according to the National Journal. Co-founder Jim Dyke is a former Republican National Committee (RNC) communications director. The ACVR was a "non-partisan" 501(c)(3) legal and educational center committed to defending the rights of voters and working to increase public confidence in the fairness and outcome of elections, stated their website. The long-standing voting rights group, the League of Women Voters, charged that the ACVR was a Republican front organization.
Hearne's testimony at the Ney hearing was placed on the Moritz College of Law Election Institute website along with Professors Ned Foley and Dan Tokaji. Hearne was given equal billing with Norman Robbins, the head of a non-partisan voting rights group from Cleveland.
Not only does Hearne's Wikipedia page no longer refer to the controversial ACVR, but Hearne's testimony before the Ney hearing is no longer linked to the Moritz College of Law Election Law Institute website. Also, the ACVR website recently disappeared and the National Journal reported, "The group now appears to be defunct."
Hearne and the myth of voter registration fraud
As the Free Press reported in 2005, Hearne, with the help of Republican attorney Alex Vogel, concocted a story that the main problem with the 2004 elections in Ohio was that the NAACP was paying people with crack cocaine to register voters. Based on scant evidence and an incident of a volunteer being linked to crack use, Hearne pushed a version of voter fraud in Ohio that directly attacked not only the NAACP, but ACORN, the AFL-CIO and ACT-Ohio. By attacking this combination of groups, Rove and Hearne were targeting the leading forces for registering blacks, poor, union workers and young people in Ohio – those most likely to vote Democratic.
Aided by Vogel, then-attorney for Republican Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, and a front group connected to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Free Enterprise Coalition, local Republican operative Mark Rubrick filed an Ohio corrupt practices lawsuit (RICO) against all the voter registration organizations listed above in Wood County.
The civil RICO case, backed by financing from the Free Enterprise Coalition, alleged that the voter registration groups provided ". . . payments made in connections with the violations (in the form of, among other things, 'bounties,' payments or other rewards for collecting and/or processing the registrations including but not limited to illegal drugs, paid to individuals actually engaged in the violations), . . ." At the bottom of the document filed by attorneys Jeffrey Creemer and Douglas Haynam of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick of Toledo, the following words appear: "jsc\Free Enterprise Coalition\Amended Complaint.doc" calling into question who was behind the lawsuit.
The suit was later quietly withdrawn after election rights attorney Cliff Arnebeck discovered that the Free Enterprise Coalition had indemnified Rubrick and had promised to pay any and all expenses related to his RICO suit. "I told Rubrick in no uncertain terms that his accusations that the NAACP was a criminal organization were false and that the indemnification from the Free Enterprise Coalition wasn't worth the paper it was written on," Arnebeck said.
In writing about the Free Enterprise Coalition (FEC) on May 28, 2007, the website SourceWatch contains the following quote: "No website, no employees, a disconnected phone and a lapsed corporate registration. Without the 990s, you'd be hard pressed to know the GOP funneled $2.8 million through the Free Enterprise Coalition to fund election-related legal expenses between 2004 and 2005."
The vanishing of the FEC is directly tied the growing Department of Justice (DOJ) scandal.
Mark F. "Thor" Hearne & election fraud timeline
1976 - Hearne began his association with the Republican Party by serving as a page at both the national and Missouri GOP convention
1980 and 1984 - Hearne was an alternate at the Missouri GOP Party convention
1986 and 1987 - Hearne worked for the Reagan administration's Department of Education Office for Civil Rights as a law clerk and attorney
1988 - Hearne ran for U.S. Congress as a Republican from the Missouri 3rd congressional district
2000 - Counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign and served as the Vice President and Director of Election Operations for the Republican National Lawyer's Association. Hearne was also an operative in the so-called "Brooks Brothers" riot that stopped the Florida recount in one county after the 2000 presidential election. Hearne served as a Republican election observer in Broward County during the 2000 presidential recount
2002 - Hearne was the Republican lawyer who led the Missouri legislative redistricting fight
2004 – Counsel to Bush-Cheney re-election campaign
3/21/05 – Hearne shows up masquerading as a "non-partisan voting rights activist" and testifies under the auspices of the newly created American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) hearing on irregularities in the Ohio 2004 presidential election, accusing voter registration groups of fraud
4/27/05 – Free Press exposes Hearne's role in Ohio in an article "How Blackwell and Petro Saved Bush's Brain"
8/05 – Hearne testifies before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitutions, Civil Rights and Property Rights
8/18/05 – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reveals partisan nature of ACVR, that it is a sham voting rights group and a Republican partisan operation
10/6/05 – Bradblog reports that ACVR co-founder Jim Dyke was working for the Bush White House to push the President's Supreme Court nominee
12/30/05 - Freepress.org publishes article "Fake voting rights activists and groups linked to White House"
2006 – U.S. prosecutors fired
12/5/06 – Hearne is given a seat as an expert on the federal Election Assistance Commission
3/16/07 - The New York Times reports that bogus voter fraud claims are linked to the purging of U.S. prosecutors
4/5/07 – New Mexico's U.S. Attorney David Inglesias is pressured by Republican operatives to bring vote fraud charges against voter registration groups in that state
4/11/07 – The New York Times reports that the original bipartisan EAC draft which was never released concluded that fears of voter fraud were overblown
5/2/07 – Hearne admits that he hired powerful GOP connected attorney William Mateja to intervene in the DOJ investigation of Missouri Governor Matt Blunt
2007 – All traces of Hearne's connection to the ACVR and Free Enterprise Coalition vanish from the internet
A press release from ACORN spelled out the reasons why Rove and Hearne attacked their organization, which is committed to registering poor people. In the 2004 election cycle, ACORN registered some 1.15 million low-income and minority citizens in 26 states. They also contacted 2.3 million citizens in their Get Out The Vote efforts.
Two similar suits had been filed in Florida as a result of ACORN's activity in that crucial swing state during the 2004 election and dismissed around the same time.
Hearne spins Congress and the DOJ
From the outset, Hearne, who specialized in exaggerated and bizarre claims of voter fraud – what Arnebeck denounced as old racist stereotypes about blacks and drugs – lobbied the DOJ for a full-scale investigation of these imaginary drug-crazed volunteer voting registrars. In an initial letter to the DOJ, Hearne wrote that there was, "substantial evidence to suggest criminal wrongdoing by organizations such as Americans Coming Together ('ACT'), ACORN, and the NAACP – Project Vote."
Hearne told the DOJ that, "We understand that local Ohio law enforcement authorities are pursuing criminal prosecution against some of the individuals involved in this activity 'which activities include paying crack cocaine for fraudulent voter registration forms.'" At the Ney hearing, Hearne assured U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones that he was basing his claims on "facts not anecdotes, affidavits, first hand accounts."
When testifying before Ney's committee in March 2005, Hearne blamed the voter suppression on "the Kerry campaign" referring to alleged events in Republican-dominated Marion County, Ohio. Arnebeck and other voting rights activists have dismissed Hearne's claim that the Kerry campaign directed voters to the wrong polling places and telling them to vote on Wednesday, November 3 instead of Election Day, November 2, 2004. The facts in numerous legal filings, like the King-Lincoln-Bronzeville v. Blackwell and Moss v. Bush, suggest just the opposite.
Ironically, the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign was accused in hundreds of sworn affidavits of engaging in racist voter suppression tactics in Ohio's urban centers. Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati's majority black wards were littered with posters and fliers telling Democratic voters to vote on Wednesday, November 3. Both the Columbus Dispatch and the then-black-owned radio station WVKO documented calls directing voters in the inner city to the wrong polling places, where they waited up to three to seven hours, only to then be told they were at the wrong site.
Hearne claimed "the ACVR is a nonpartisan watchdog legal defense and educational center committed to defending the rights of voters and working to increase public confidence in the fairness of the outcome of elections." He told the congressional committee that: "Ohio citizens deserve the confidence that they – the voters – not trial lawyers, activists judges and special interest groups soliciting fraudulent votes with crack cocaine determine the results of Ohio elections."
What Hearne failed to tell the Congressional Committee, as he earnestly portrayed himself as a non-partisan voting rights activist, was his well-documented role as Bush-Cheney election counsel, the role of the Free Enterprise Coalition in financing the case against voting registration groups, and his role as a Republican operative with high-level ties to Karl Rove.
Hearne, with no real academic credentials, also had himself named as an academic advisor to the Carter-Baker Commission on election reform.
Caught in this masquerade
The National Journal called Hearne, ". . . a Republican Party operative who had served as national elections counsel for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and played a behind-the-scenes role in both cases [the firing of Cummins and Graves]."
One wonders how Hearne was able to masquerade for so long and testify before the Ney Committee without being immediately outed. His ties to the Republican Party reach back to the 70s and are well-documented in his posted online biographies. (See timeline, pg, 17)
"Hearne's role provides a window into how a Republican activist was pushing Bush administration officials – and perhaps in some cases working in concert with them – to use the Justice Department for partisan purposes," wrote the National Journal.
Part of the Rove/Hearne strategy was to "cage" and intimidate Democratic voters while at the same time to register as many Republicans as possible. It is well documented that the Republican National Committee (RNC) threw around millions of dollars to hire Sproul & Associates to do voter registration. Election and law enforcement officials in several states investigated complaints that the company's temporary workers were registering only Bush supporters and trashing thousands of registrations collected from suspected Democrats.
The New York Times reported on April 12, 2007 that the Bush administration's five-year crackdown on voter fraud, according to Justice Department statistics, had only led to charges against 120 people, the majority of them Democrats, with only 86 convictions. The DOJ found that many cases simply involved mistakes and a misunderstanding of voting eligibility rules, suggesting that the Rove/Hearne obsession with voter fraud may have been covering deliberately designed voter suppression tactics directed from the White House, facilitated by Hearne, with a compromised and intimidated Department of Justice.
Why was it so important to Hearne for voter registration groups to be accused of fraud in the 2004 election? The calculated targeting of voter registration groups – subjecting them to civil RICO suits and criminal prosecution – is part of a larger strategy to shrink the electorate. Nothing chills volunteers and grassroots organizations like the threat of legal problems or jail time. And nothing distracts the mainstream media away from the new Jim Crow tactics used by the Bush administration to suppress voters than the myth of black voter registrars using crack and accusations of racketeering. A corrupt and partisan Department of Justice is essential to furthering the Bush administration's injustice against poor and minority voters.
Bob Fitrakis is co-author, with Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO. This article was originally published at http://freepress.org.