Appointment to and Tenure at Department of Justice
Von Spakovsky joined the Justice Department in Bush's first term, as were many of the individuals who had a hand in helping Bush get elected. As noted in Part 1 of this series, von Spakovsky was involved with the Florida recount:
Von Spakovsky, fresh from serving as a Bush volunteer during the Florida recount battle, became the administration's point man on voting. A veteran of efforts to keep down the Black vote in the run-up to 2000, von Spakovsky tenaciously advocated felony disenfranchisement through the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. He also served on the advisory board of the now-defunct Voting Integrity Project (VIP), which was involved in the massive purge of voters in Florida before the 2000 election.
With a resume consisting of efforts many claim were intended to disenfranchise and suppress minority voting rights, it wasn't long before von Spakovsky spearheaded initiatives at the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to accomplish similar results. His illustrious career at DOJ included many acts which went against the basic premise of "Helping America Vote."
Von Spakovsky approved the mid-census redistricting in Texas that was engineered by Tom Delay - which the U.S. Supreme Court later held in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A December 12, 2003 Justice Department Memorandum indicates that von Spakovsky and Brad Schlozman (who later became US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri) overrode seven DOJ voting rights experts who indicated that the Texas redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act. According to the Lone Star Project (.pdf linked above):
An examination of the memo makes clear what the Republicans want to hide and confirms long-held suspicions by minority rights advocates that Bush political operatives ignored the law, ignored the facts, and were willing accomplices in the political crime against minority voters that DeLay orchestrated in Texas.
In a [separate] seventy-three page memo, seven Department of Justice voting rights experts and their section chief unanimously recommended that the Department of Justice file a formal objection to the DeLay plan under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Their recommendation directly and unambiguously describes how the DeLay plan illegally reduces minority voting strength in Texas to advance the partisan goals of DeLay and the Republican Party.
The DOJ experts' recommendation was overruled by two Bush Administration political appointees, Hans von Spakovsky and Brad Schlozman. Spakovsky is a political operative who has written extensively advocating widely criticized voting changes that make it more difficult for minorities to register and vote. Prior to his DOJ appointment, Spakovsky worked as part of the infamous Voter Integrity Team which worked to remove African Americans from the voter rolls in Florida during the 2000 General Election.
Improper Use of Authority Regarding US Attorney from Minnesota
Recent revelations regarding long term US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who had served for fifteen years (and under three presidents), have centered on von Spakovsky's hand in Heffelfinger's resignation during 2006. Tom Hamburger in his May 2007 article for the Los Angeles Times focused on von Spakovsky's role in the voter ID issues regarding Native Americans who had tribal ID cards but no drivers license or other form of ID.
A recently passed law in Minnesota resulted in the (Republican) Secretary of State declaring that Native Americans who were living off of reservations could no longer use their tribal ID cards as identification for voting. Heffelfinger (who had a sterling record as a prosecutor) felt that this could result in discrimination allegations by Native Americans and raised his concerns over this ruling. Less than three months later, Heffelfinger found his name on a list of US Attorneys to be considered for firing. According to Joseph Rich (a 37 year employee and former head of the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division) had the following to say about this matter:
"I have come to the conclusion that his expressed concern for Indian voting rights is at least part of the reason that Tom Heffelfinger was placed on the list to be fired.'
What makes this resignation of a champion of the voting rights of Native Americans even more disconcerting is the fact that Minnesota's Native American population (at least those who live off reservation) (1) vote in large numbers and (2) historically tend to vote largely Democratic. When Joseph Rich wanted to initiate an investigation into whether the Minnesota law would disenfranchise or discriminate against Native Americans, he was told by Brad Schlozman and von Spakovsky to hold off on the investigation and to deal with the Republican Secretary of State directly - not Heffelfinger, anyone on his team who raised these concerns or county officials in the affected counties. These acts "effectively ended" any inquiry or investigation into this matter.
Two last items to note in terms of securing the future voting rights of Native Americans - Heffelfinger recommended that his replacement be his assistant, Joan Humes (the number 2 in his office). Heffelfinger was overruled, and his replacement was Federalist Society member Rachel Paulose, who claims to have previously brought lawsuits regarding election issues on behalf of the Minnesota Republican Party. (Upon Paulose's appointment, her four senior staffers resigned in protest over her dictatorial management style. Additionally, a Federal District judge ordered that the ID cards be accepted on Election Day.
Possible Conflict of Interest Violations
Dan Eggen, in a 2005 Washington Post article, reports that as recently as 2005 - a mere few months prior to his being recess-appointed to the FEC, von Spakovsky authored an article for the Texas Review of Law and Politics under the pseudonym "Publius," which argued for the very voter ID law von Spakovsky was pushing in the Justice Department over the objections of career voting rights experts.
This fact was first uncovered in March 2006 by Loyola University law professor Rick Hasen and then picked up by the Washington Post a few weeks later (link above). According to the Washington Post article, this sockpuppetry could have violated Justice Department guidelines, since as "Publius", he was advocating a view for a controversial program that as von Spakovsky, he already had made up his mind about. How so? Well, at the time of publication, the Georgia law had yet to be submitted to the Justice Department for its review:
The article and its unusual authorship prompted a letter of complaint to the Justice Department last week [April, 2006] from the Voting Rights Project, an arm of the American Civil Liberties Union that is opposed to Georgia's voter identification plans. The group said the article shows von Spakovsky had already made up his mind on the issue and that his attempt to hide his views may have violated Justice Department guidelines.
"There appears to have been an intentional desire to prevent the public and, in particular, advocates with business before the Voting Section, from knowing the views of one of the senior officials involved," Neil Bradley, the ACLU group's associate director, wrote in his letter to Justice.
The Justice Department, by its own guidelines, is supposed to "make the same determination that would be made by the court in an action for a declaratory judgment" when reviewing a Section 5 submission. Obviously, an honest judge who had already made up his or her mind on an issue s/he was called on to decide and who had, in fact, published a law review article advocating for the position of one of the litigants would be required to recuse himself or herself. Von Spakovsky did not.
Instead, he was instrumental in again overriding the recommendations of career professional staffers, who believed the laws illegally discriminatory, and approving photo ID laws in Georgia and Arizona. As McClatchy Washington Bureau's Greg Gordon notes in a May 2007 article:
Months after its publication, he [von Spakovsky] 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. [Former Voting Section Chief Joseph D.] Rich called von Spakovsky's failure to withdraw from the case "especially disturbing, given the clear ethical concerns" over his prior work as a Georgia elections official and the bias in his article.
Other Notable "Accomplishments"
A recent article by the McClatchy Washington Bureau discussed a number of other initiatives that von Spakovsky was responsible for at the Justice Department that served to curb the ability of minority and likely Democratic voters to vote. The article mentions von Spakovsky's penchant for recommending and pushing for "sweeping reforms" which were under the guise of "combating voter fraud" but in actuality suppressed voting rights of minorities.
Three other accomplishments include the following:
- 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 DeGregorio, whom von Spakovsky considered insufficiently partisan.
Copies of emails between von Spakovsky and DeGregorio indicate von Spakovsky's potentially law-breaking activity in his attempted "dealmaking" over issues that DeGregorio considered a matter of law. They further show that von Spakovsky was (possibly improperly) attempting to influence DeGregorio and the Election Assistance Commission with respect to voter ID studies and proposed laws in Arizona.
About the Author: Adam Lambert is a tax consultant living and working in the New York City area. Blogging under the name "clammyc", he has researched and written extensively on issues involving Iraq, the Bush administration and the "war on terror," the US attorney purge and election fraud issues.
ePluribus Contributors: Publius Revolts, Standingup, cho, AvaHome, GreyHawk, wanderindiana, Roxy and jenn718 contributed to this story.