Greg Gordon writes for McClatchy Newspapers that Hans von Spakovsky, a Justice Department lawyer now serving on the Federal Election Commission, allegedly used his position to prevent minorities from voting.
During four years as a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, Hans von Spakovsky went so far in a crusade against voter fraud as to warn of its dangers under a pseudonym in a law journal article.
Writing as “Publius,” von Spakovsky contended that every voter should be required to produce a photo-identification card and that there was “no evidence” that such restrictions burden minority voters disproportionately.
Now, amid a scandal over politicization of the Justice Department, Congress is beginning to examine allegations that von Spakovsky was a key player in a Republican campaign to hang onto power in Washington by suppressing the votes of minority voters.
“Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration’s pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote,” charged Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief who worked under him.
He and other former career department lawyers say that von Spakovsky steered the agency toward voting rights policies not seen before, pushing to curb minor instances of election fraud by imposing sweeping restrictions that would make it harder, not easier, for Democratic-leaning poor and minority voters to cast ballots.
Greg Gordon said von Spakovsky was “a longtime voting rights activist and elections official in Georgia.” Sure. Thomas B. Edsall and Dan Eggen described von Spakovsky’s “activism” in the December 17, 2005, Washington Post:
Career Justice Department lawyers involved in a Georgia case said von Spakovsky pushed strongly for approval of a state program requiring voters to have photo identification. A team of staff lawyers that examined the case recommended 4 to 1 that the Georgia plan should be rejected because it would harm black voters; the recommendation was overruled by von Spakovsky and other senior officials in the Civil Rights Division.
Before working in the Justice Department, von Spakovsky was the Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., and served on the board of the Voter Integrity Project, which advocated regular purging of voter roles to prevent felons from casting ballots….
… Asked if it was a conflict for von Spakovsky to work on a case involving a Republican plan in his home state of Georgia, Justice spokesman Eric Holland said: “Many of the dedicated and professional attorneys in the Voting Rights Section have worked in advocacy roles involving voting issues prior to their arrival at the Justice Department. . . . Justice Department attorneys are always mindful of their responsibility to perform duties in ethical matters, including recusing themselves as necessary under standards of ethical and professional conduct.”
Hans von Spakovsky and three other men who received a Bush recess appointment to the FEC in 2005. This is from a December 2005 editorial in the New York Times:
The most objectionable nominee is Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican county chairman in Georgia and a political appointee at the Justice Department. He is reported to have been involved in the maneuvering to overrule the career specialists at Justice who warned that the Texas gerrymandering orchestrated by Representative Tom DeLay violated minority voting rights. Senators need the opportunity to delve into that, as well as reports of Mr. von Spakovsky’s involvement in such voting rights abuses as the purging of voter rolls in Florida in the 2000 elections.
Since he was a recess appointment, however, the Senate never got the chance to delve into anything in von Spakovsky’s past.
Greg Gordon continues,
In interviews, current and former federal officials and civil rights leaders told McClatchy Newspapers that von Spakovsky:
● Sped approval of tougher voter ID laws in Georgia and Arizona in 2005, joining decisions to override career lawyers who believed that Georgia’s law would restrict voting by poor blacks and who felt that more analysis was needed on the Arizona law’s impact on Native Americans and Latinos.
● Tried to influence the federal Election Assistance Commission’s research into the dimensions of voter fraud nationally and the impact of restrictive voter ID laws — research that could undermine a vote-suppression agenda.
● Allegedly engineered the ouster of the commission’s chairman, Paul DiGregorio, whom von Spakovsky considered insufficiently partisan.
I hadn’t known before today that von Spakovsky had problems with DiGregorio, another Bush appointee, who apparently was pushed off the FEC last September. Greg Gordon writes,
In an Aug. 18, 2005, e-mail to Chairman DiGregorio, he objected strenuously to a contract award for the ID study to researchers at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, who were teaming with a group at Rutgers University.
Von Spakovsky wrote that Daniel Tokaji, the associate director of Moritz’ election program, was “an outspoken opponent of voter identification requirements” and that those “pre-existing notions” should disqualify him from federal funding for impartial research.
The criticism was ironic coming from von Spakovsky, who a few months earlier had written the anonymous article for the Texas Review of Law and Politics, in which he called voter fraud a problem of importance equal to racial discrimination at the polls. Von Spakovsky acknowledged writing the article after joining the FEC.
Months after its publication, he participated in the department’s review of Georgia’s photo ID law, as required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act for election laws passed in 16 Southern states. After the department approved it, a federal judge struck it down as akin to a Jim Crow-era poll tax on minority voters. …
… Von Spakovsky’s tone toward DiGregorio grew increasingly harsh in 2005 as the chairman refused to take partisan stands, said two people close to the commission who declined to be identified because of the matter’s sensitivity.
Their differences seemed to come to a head last year over two issues raised by Arizona’s Republican secretary of state, Janice Brewer, who was implementing the toughest state voter identification law in the nation. In April 2005, the Justice Department erroneously advised her that Arizona did not need to offer a provisional ballot to those lacking proof of citizenship.
E-mails suggest that von Spakovsky contacted an aide to Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond, who inquired of DiGregorio whether the commission was “seriously considering taking a position against” the department on the provisional ballot question.
DiGregorio sent a testy message asking von Spakovsky if the note from Capitol Hill was “an attempt by you to put pressure on me.”
“If so, I do not appreciate it,” he wrote.
The next day, von Spakovsky wrote DiGregorio that he thought they “had a deal” under which the department would reconsider its position on provisional ballots if the commission would allow Arizona to modify the federal voter registration form to require proof of citizenship.
“I do not agree to `deals,’ especially when it comes to interpretation of the law,” DiGregorio replied.
Last September, the White House replaced DiGregorio with Caroline Hunter, a former deputy counsel to the Republican National Committee. DiGregorio confided to associates that he was told that von Spakovsky influenced the White House’s decision not to reappoint him, said the two people close to the panel.
The FEC is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans. Matthew Mosk wrote in the March 27, 2007 WaPo that the three Democrats believed “President Bush exceeded legal spending limits during the 2004 presidential contest and that his campaign owes the government $40 million.”
The allegation came from an audit of Bush campaign finances.
“We had a disagreement on this audit, and it was a doozy,” said one of the Democrats, Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub.
The dispute centered on the use of what the commissioners called “hybrid” ads, which were intended to promote both the president and Republican members of Congress. The Bush campaign argued that it should not bear the full cost of these ads, so it split the tab with the Republican Party.
As a result, only half of the cost would count toward spending limits imposed on the campaign when it agreed to take public funds. Weintraub said the spending limit is an essential part of the agreement candidates make to accept public financing. “Bush-Cheney 2004 took the $74 million, and then they broke the bargain,” she said.
Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky, a Republican, strongly disagreed. “There was no broken bargain,” he said. “There was no violation of the law.”
Translation: Bush owes the government $40 million. But the FEC chose not to collect. The only action taken on the Democrats’ allegations was to note them in a footnote to the audit.
See also: “Why This Scandal Matters.”
Update: Pelosi in ’07 T-shirt, anyone?