Welcome back to the electoral process Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.
That’s the message some critics say is being sent by President Obama, who has dispatched one of his top political advisers, Patrick Gaspard, to serve as the new executive director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Obama and Gaspard’s affinity for the discredited community-organizing group ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which in recent years tried unsuccessfully to register the Walt Disney characters and National Football League to vote, has political observers on heightened alert for questionable voting practices in the next election.
Matthew Vadum, senior editor at the Capital Research Center, describes Gaspard as a stealth bomber of political sorts whose tactics are “thuggish” and often “hidden from the public.”
“Patrick Gaspard will be in the perfect position to tell this organization what to do,” said Vadum, who has written a book on ACORN and its affiliation with Obama that will be published later this year.
ACORN found itself embroiled in scandal in 2009 after some employees were shown on videotape advising an independent filmmaker disguised as a pimp how to obtain tax-free property to use as a brothel, in at least one case for underage prostitutes.
But what captured the attention of Beltway insiders were earlier reports that ACORN chapters in 14 states were under investigation on charges they registered thousands of fraudulent voters.
The Economist wrote on Oct. 16, 2008, that ACORN signed up 1.3 million voters, but “thousands of their voter-registration applications are fakes,” including those from a 7-year-old girl from Connecticut and an Ohio man who admitted he registered 70 times in exchange for money and cigarettes. In one Indiana County, ACORN turned in 5,000 voter applications, 2,100 of which were identified as fakes, the magazine said.
The article has Republicans “crying foul” over the practice, and points out that “the plot thickens: Mr. Obama led training sessions for the group back in his Chicago community-organizer days, and his campaign has had some dealings with it.”
One year later, John Fund wrote in the Wall Street Journal that ACORN’s relationship to the Obama campaign is a matter of public record.
“Last year, Citizens Consulting, Inc., the umbrella group controlling ACORN, was paid $832,000 by the Obama campaign for get-out-the-vote efforts in key primary states. In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the campaign listed the payments as “staging, sound, lighting,” only correcting them after reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review revealed their true nature,” Fund wrote.
“Mr. Obama distanced himself from the group’s scandals last year, saying, ‘We don’t need ACORN’s help.’ Nevertheless, he got his start as a community organizer at ACORN’s side,” Fund wrote.
“In 1992, he headed a registration effort for Project Vote, an ACORN partner at the time. In 1995, he represented ACORN in a key case upholding the new Motor Voter Act—the very law whose mandated postcard registration system ACORN workers use to flood election offices with bogus registrations,” Fund wrote.
According to Vadum, Gaspard came to the White House from ACORN’s favorite labor organization, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New York, where as a political officer and protest organizer he donated $15,000 to ACORN in 2007 and $25,000 in 2008. At one point ACORN founder Wade Rathke claimed that Gaspard was the political director for the group’s New York branch, Vadum said, but later said he was mistaken and removed the comments from his website.
The White House has denied that Gaspard has had any involvement with ACORN. But Vadum maintains there is a connection.
“He is a radical community organizer, just like President Obama, and he believes in [ACORN’s] thuggish tactics,” Vadum said.
Vadum pointed to a March 2005 protest staged by ACORN at the headquarters of Liberty Tax Service in Virginia. Fox News reported that more than 100 protestors were bused in and that the rally against perceived predatory lending practices turned into a riot. Several months later, ACORN stormed a meeting of the National Paint & Coatings Association in Cleveland and demanded $30 billion to remove paint-containing lead from housing in poor communities, the network reported.
“He is going to use the same slimy tactics ACORN uses that are entirely dishonest and dishonorable. He will engage in smear tactics. This is what ACORN is all about, not peaceful activists expressing themselves as part of the democratic process. They are outside of the democratic process,” Vadum said.
“This is why people should be alarmed that someone like Pat is going to be running the day-to-day operations of the DNC. It ought to send a chill down your spine,” Vadum said.
DNC Chairman and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine welcomed the native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the committee in a Jan. 20 message and called him “a great person.”
“He understands the importance of grassroots politics and team-building,” Kaine said.
Despite some criticism of Gaspard in Republican circles and in the blogosphere, Doug Heye, former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, views Gaspard aside from his past associations and says he will work well for the national party.
“Everything that I’ve heard about Gaspard is that he is effective and he will do a good job,” Heye said. “ACORN is something that we will expect to hear and read about in blogs, but we just don’t know how it will be won or lost.”
“This is the Democrats’ constituency,” Heye said. “It’s their base.”