- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday continued a pattern of politically targeted reports with a 198-page study on last years election in Florida that was denounced by critics as biased and inaccurate.
The study claiming that many Florida voters were prohibited from voting was provided Monday to three newspapers considered favorable by Commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry, a Clinton appointee, said Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh.
Mr. Redenbaugh said the early release of the report was an effort to advance Miss Berrys own political agenda. He suggested she step down from the position she has held since 1993.
Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom said the leak made the entire Florida investigation "a total sham. I am utterly astonished that she would do this."
Miss Berry could not be reached for comment by The Washington Times.
There have been previous criticisms of the commissions agenda during Miss Berrys tenure.
In April 2000, Republicans accused the commission of timing an unfavorable report on the New York Police Department to cloud the senatorial aspirations of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was at that time the leading opponent of Mrs. Clintons Senate campaign.
The commission also released reports critical of the affirmative action record of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas at a time when he was moving to challenge Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election.
A spokeswoman for the commissions private public relations firm, McKinney & McDowell in Washington, said she could not answer any "substantive questions" about yesterdays Florida report.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Miss Berry said Attorney General John Ashcroft should investigate the reports findings.
"We are asking the Justice Department and Mr. Ashcroft to look at the facts in our report and look at the remedy he should pursue," Miss Berry said. "He should determine whether there was intentional discrimination."
Mr. Redenbaugh called Miss Berry a "left-of-center" figure who has managed to get her own view of the contested Florida election into the newspapers.
"She has achieved five news cycles instead of one," Mr. Redenbaugh said yesterday. Like Miss Berry, Mr. Redenbaugh is a stated political independent.
All three newspapers — the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times — published prominent stories yesterday about the report that disparages the Florida voting process and some of the states officials.
Mr. Redenbaugh said Miss Berry has politicized the eight-member commission, which was created in 1957 with the intention of it being an impartial, bipartisan board.
"Her statements are left-of-center, her political contributions are left-of-center," Mr. Redenbaugh said. "Its time for President Bush to show some leadership and designate a new chair."
Mrs. Thernstrom, the lone Republican commissioner, took it a step further: "The credibility of the commission is in the minus numbers with this. The political appointees involved with this commission should have resigned with the old administration. The Bush administration should get them out."
Miss Berry has contributed thousands of dollars to Democrats since 1992, according to election records, including donations to the campaigns of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Al Gore and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But another commission member, Elsie Meeks, downplayed any political motives. She said that staff director Les Jin, also a Clinton appointee, is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the commission and, therefore, responsible for the security of confidential reports.
"For issues like this, the staff director is responsible for the process," said Miss Meeks. "It was not supposed to be released until after we vote on the draft, then it goes to legal review. I really dont know how this all happened."
Florida officials responded loudly to the release of the report. Aides in the governors and the secretary of states offices said they were denied any chance to respond to the accusations.
A spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said yesterday her office was sent excerpts from a draft of the report on May 25 with a letter that asked for any rebuttal to the reports accusations by June 6.
"But now the issue is the leak," said David Host, director of communications in Mrs. Harris office. The letter from the commissions general counsel assured the secretary of states office that "prior to publication, the commission provides to government agencies and, when appropriate, to nongovernment organizations, an opportunity to comment on the accuracy of those portions of the report pertaining to that agency or organization."
Said Mr. Host: "It is fraudulent and shameful that this leak happened, and it is like sending a judge and jury out without giving us a chance to respond."
Florida Gov. Jeb Bushs chief counsel, Charles Canady, yesterday fired off a letter to Mr. Hailes, saying that the commissions "faulty analysis is driven by political bias." He also accused the commission of leaking the report, which he said was "consistent with the substantive bias and procedural unfairness that have been the commissions trademark throughout its investigation of the November 2000 election."
Commission members spent several days in Florida in January, interviewing people who claimed they were harassed during their endeavor to vote on Election Day in November. Still, none of the witnesses confirmed claims by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others that black voters had been denied access to the polls.
Florida Attorney General Robert A. Butterworth testified that of the 2,600 complaints he received on the election, 2,300 were related to questionable "butterfly" ballots in Palm Beach County. He said three complaints concerned "alleged discrimination on the basis of race."
The head of the Florida Highway Patrol yesterday angrily denounced as "extremely insulting and unfounded" accusations that his officers blocked minority voters from polling places in the Nov. 7 presidential election.
Several times over the months following the hearings, Miss Berry made references to the pending report, hinting that the commission found that many grievances were substantiated during the commissions investigation.
During the commissions March 9 meeting, Miss Berry read a personal statement in which she disparaged the entire process and said that "it appears to me at this phase of the investigation the evidence may ultimately support findings of prohibited discrimination."


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