17 October 2014

On the night of November 1, 2004, Jim Branscome said, he overheard a man, a guest in the Holiday Inn where Mr. Branscome worked in Columbus, Ohio, tell someone over the pay phone in the hotel lobby:

"'Look, I know you got out of prison about'...X amount of months ago...I can't remember how many months he gave, but it was earlier this year, the year 2004, and he said, 'It's illegal for you to vote in this state, and if you show up tomorrow at the polls, we're going to have the FBI there waiting for you, and we're going to haul your ass right back into the slammer' he told him or into the 'can' or something like that."
-- From a videotaped interview with Robert Fitrakis and Linda Byrket.

Mr. Branscome said that the man appeared to be making calls from a list of names and phone numbers. Outraged at what he had heard, Mr. Branscome said, he approached the man, but the man got on the elevator and fled to the sixth floor where he had a room. Mr. Branscome followed him to the sixth floor, but the man returned to the lobby immediately, with Mr. Branscome following him down and out of the hotel. Mr. Branscome saw the man turn the corner next to Ohio Republican Party headquarters, in the same block as the hotel, and he said he is sure the man went into the state GOP's building.

The hotel desk clerk called the Columbus police about the incident. The 911 report shows the police responded, but no action was taken, and there was no record of a report having been written, a clerk in the records section said.

If Mr. Branscome's report is accurate, the caller violated the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968. If convicted, the caller could be sentenced to one year in jail.

Mr. Branscome has said he believes the caller was a member of a group staying at the hotel to work on the election calling itself the Mighty Texas Strike Force (MTSF). The organization has connections reaching into the White House.

An internet review and an interview with Polly Sowell, Senior Appointments Manager in the office of Texas Governor Rick Perry and responsible for recruiting for the MTSF, finds that the organization originated in 2000 to bring volunteers from Texas and other states into battleground states such as Florida to work for the election of George W. Bush. The MTSF was reinstituted in 2004, dispersing about 1,500 volunteers to Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

Asked who had the idea for the strike force, Ms. Sowell said it might have been "Karl". Asked who that was, she said Karl Rove, Deputy White House Chief of Staff, who, she said, "is a very close friend of mine." Ms. Sowell said that it had been said in jest that the MTSF was formed so that all Mr. Bush's friends wouldn't be calling Mr. Rove everyday asking what they could do to help Mr. Bush get elected.

Ms. Sowell, a long-time worker in the Texas GOP, is extremely enthusiastic about the MTSF's ability to engage people in the campaign. "They worked like dogs," she said of the volunteers, "They worked all day and they played all night." There was so much interest in the MTSF, she said, that there were 200 to 300 people extra who couldn't be deployed.

The coordinator of the MTSF, Ms. Sowell said, was Patrick Oxford, managing partner of the Houston law firm Bracewell and Patterson, a firm advertising itself as having over 400 lawyers, that once represented Enron. Texans for Public Justice, a public interest research group, reports that Mr. Oxford specializes in the energy industry and in financing corporate and civic deals. He is a Bush Pioneer, having raised over $100,000 for Mr. Bush in 2000. In 1997, he was appointed by then-Governor Bush to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, and as a regent was appointed to the University of Texas Investment Management Company in 1999. According to Texans for Public Justice, he was appointed after vacancies developed over a scandal in which the board gave contracts to friends of a board member and to major Bush donors.

In 2002, the research group said, Mr. Oxford announced that his firm would sever its ties with Enron. Enron raised conflicts of interest for Bracewell, which represented major creditors of Enron, the group reports. Additionally, it said, Bracewell employed "GOP politicians" who presented potential conflicts with respect to Enron. For example, it employed Marc Racicot as a lobbyist for Enron, and others, before Mr. Racicot was named by Mr. Bush as chair of the RNC. And, Texans for Public Justice report, Mr. Oxford has advised the Bush Administration on appointments to the Federal bench.

Deployment of the MTSF volunteers was the responsibility, according to Ms. Sowell, of Karen Johnson, president of Infrastructure Solutions Inc., a lobbying firm with offices in Austin and Washington, DC. She is also a Bush Pioneer, and Capitol Inside, a Texas political news service, lists her as among Texas' "Top Hired Guns". Her resume says she was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team, serving as director of the Department of Transportation Advisory Committee.

Ms. Johnson has reported more than $2 million in lobbying income, according to Texans for Public Justice, with clients including Aetna, Grumman Northrup, the American Society of Anesthesiologists and Texas Petrochemicals.

Mr. Oxford and Ms. Johnson did not return calls.

The MTSF was guided in its deployment of volunteers by the Bush-Cheney Campaign, Ms. Sowell said. There was also apparently coordination through the Republic National Committee (RNC). Newsweek, quoting Mr. Oxford, said that the coordination between the MTSF and the RNC ended several weeks before the election because of what appeared to be overload for the RNC staffer involved. "Oxford imagined her (the RNC staffer) overwhelmed by the pressure," the article said, "'under her desk,' he said chuckling, 'in a fetal position, sucking her thumb.'"

The article also reported that Mr. Rove made it a point to hold face-to-face meetings with local organizers during the campaign.

Chris McNutt, Executive Director of the Ohio Republican Party, and Ms. Sowell said that the volunteers took their work assignments from the local organizers. Both said that there was never any instruction to volunteers to conduct intimidating phone calls. "Oh for heaven's sake," Ms. Sowell said, "I never heard anything like that." On the contrary, she said, the volunteers were told to "love" the voters and persuade them to vote for Mr. Bush. Mr. McNutt said that talk of intimidating phone calls comes from "conspiracy theorists".

Nevertheless, the Republican Party has gotten into trouble on the issue of voter intimidation back at least to 1981, when a Federal court directed the RNC to "refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct such activities...and where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting..." The decree was violated in 1986 in Louisiana and in 1990 in North Carolina. On November 1, 2004, the Federal court in Newark, New Jersey, said: "The Republican National Committee, its officers, agents and employees are enjoined and restrained from using for challenging purposes on November 2, 2004, a list of 35,000 names prepared for that purpose by the Republican Party in the State of Ohio."

The reported Holiday Inn intimidation incident is mentioned in "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio", published January 5, 2005 by the Democratic Staff of the House Judiciary Committee, under the direction of the committee's ranking minority member, Cong. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich). The report formed the basis for the objections to the Ohio Presidential election raised in the House and Senate on Jan. 6, 2005. The incident was also noted in a letter to the U.S. Attorney General in which Mr. Conyers and other Representatives urged the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Ohio election. Mr. Conyers and others have asked that the full House Judiciary Committee investigate the election. To date there has been no response from the Attorney General or Cong. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.(R-Wis), chair of the judiciary committee. No investigation of the Holiday Inn incident is known to be underway by any law enforcement agency, local, state or federal.