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by Ali Gharib

A Selective Definition of Voter Fraud

(IPS) -- As Election Day in the United States draws nigh, attacks from Sen. John McCain's campaign and its Republican supporters have focused attention on the activities of a national low- and moderate-income advocacy group, accusing it of everything from engaging in widespread, systematic voter fraud to causing the U.S.-turned-global financial crisis.

The heavily coordinated attack on the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) by the McCain camp has drawn criticism as both an increasingly desperate attempt to launch negative attacks on his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, and a bid to suppress voter turnout among groups that lean Democratic.

Republican attacks on ACORN have become commonplace around major elections, but this year's offensive against the "nation's largest grassroots community organization" are particularly acute. McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and his ardent supporter, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both mocked Obama as "a former community organizer" at this summer's Republican National Convention.

With just two and a half weeks until the final ballots are cast and tallied in the presidential race, and on the heels of the financial meltdown and market turmoil, McCain's campaign has fallen behind in the polls in various key battleground states that will likely decide the outcome of the election.

The attacks on ACORN have ranged from complaints leading to a raid of ACORN's Nevada headquarters and now a federal investigation, to a conservative-group aided lawsuit in Ohio, and a McCain campaign ad tying Obama to ACORN and accusing it of catalysing the financial crisis.

The campaign came to a crescendo Wednesday when McCain lashed out against the group during the final presidential debate in New York.

"We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama's relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy," McCain declared during the contentious debate, implying that Obama was deeply tied to the group and his campaign had given ACORN hundreds of thousands of dollars for "lighting and site selection."

Obama responded that allegations of individual instances of fraud do not mean ACORN was engaged in systematic fraud, and that he has limited ties to the group.

"The only involvement I've had with ACORN was I represented them alongside the U.S. Justice Department in making Illinois implement a motor voter law that helped people get registered at DMVs," said Obama.

McCain's attack was perhaps the most hyperbolic accusation lobbed at ACORN yet, and closely mirrors a negative ad from his campaign last week that accused ACORN, in its advocacy of home ownership for working class people, of directly contributing to the sub-prime mortgage implosion that sparked the credit crunch and strained global financial markets.

"ACORN forced banks to issue risky home loans -- the same types of loans that caused the financial crisis we're in today," said a deep-voiced narrator in the McCain-approved ad released on Oct. 10.

In a response to the ad, ACORN released a 13-page report Thursday titled "ACORN and John McCain: The Real Story of Financial Crisis 1999-2008" documenting its own record on opposing policies and practices that are blamed for the mortgage crisis, and attacking what they called "recent attempts by the McCain...campaign to shamelessly shift blame for the current financial crisis."

The report cited specific incidents of ACORN's actions and advocacy and compared them with a website search of McCain's record on the issue of predatory lending -- aggressive lending practices roundly blamed for creating the defaulted mortgage payments that sent lending banks into dire straits.

"From working to pass city ordinances and state laws restricting risky lending practices, to protesting and suing lenders, and from lobbying for federal laws and regulations to releasing numerous reports warning of impending crisis, one must conclude that ACORN fought against predatory lending," said the report, authored by the national director of ACORN's Financial Justice Center, Austin King.

"John McCain's history with this issue is more difficult to document, mostly because there is not much history," continued the report, displaying a timeline littered with ACORN actions and a matching one for McCain with only seven blips, mostly steps towards banking deregulation that McCain has supported.

In addition to the report, ACORN has been hosting a series of press calls and conferences to address the accusations.

The tit-for-tat exchange even saw McCain campaign surrogates and ACORN holding back-to-back press conferences at the National Press Club in Washington. ACORN executive director Steve Kest said in a press release that despite being the topic of the McCain campaign conference, representatives of ACORN were not allowed into the room to hear the accusations in person.

Two days later, ACORN released a letter to the two McCain surrogates, former Sens. John Danforth and Warren Rudman, to meet with ACORN and review registration screening procedures with them.

All of the press conferences have garnered a lot of media attention. A blog entry by Eric Boehlert on Media Matters, a progressive media-monitoring outfit, cited a statistic that the conservative-leaning Fox News cable channel had mentioned ACORN 342 times in a one-week period from Oct. 6 through Oct. 13, compared to just 61 mentions on CNN.

Many of the accusations against ACORN are rehashed attacks from previous election cycles and a long history of conservative animosity against the group.

The accusation of voter fraud has been bandied about for years. It was, in fact, at the center of the firing of a U.S. attorney from New Mexico, David Iglesias, when he refused to pursue fraud charges against ACORN after a task force found no grounds for prosecution. A U.S. Inspector General report this month concluded that the firing was political.

The "Attorney-Gate Scandal," as it has come to be known, led to the resignation of then U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

In another regurgitated attack, a lawsuit filed in Ohio this week with the help of the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think-tank, sought to stop ACORN from operating in the state on the grounds that false registrations were diluting legitimate votes.

An ACORN employee based in Ohio, Katy Gall, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that she doubted that the organization had even registered many voters in Warren County, where the suit was filed, and an ACORN press release said the "filing appears to be nothing more than a cut-and-paste recycling of the filing made in 2004, which was dismissed for lack of any evidence."

Furthermore, ACORN says that accusations of voter fraud are completely unfounded, despite admitting that there has been some registration fraud which the group claims to be making efforts at curtailing.

."..Issues related to voter registration are not voter fraud," said a release from ACORN today. "These are not cases where people are able to vote multiple times. Let us repeat -- these are not situations involving actual votes."

ACORN claims to have registered 1.3 million new voters in the 18-month period leading up to the Nov. 4 election, many of whom are part of ACORN's focus on advocacy for low- and moderate-income citizens -- groups that tend to vote Democratic.

ACORN has also ironically pointed out that despite his accusations of ties to Obama, it was McCain who "stood shoulder-to-shoulder" with ACORN at an immigration reform rally co-sponsored by the group in February 2006.

"It is clear for us to see that John McCain was for ACORN before he was against ACORN," said Maude Hurd, ACORN's national president, in a statement Thursday.

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Albion Monitor   October 16, 2008   (

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