- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2004

A voter-registration organization founded by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has registered 150,000 new American-Indian and Hispanic voters in the battleground states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico — a multimillion-dollar, tax-exempt effort expected to favor Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.

The Moving America Forward Foundation (MAFF) and a separate political action committee known as Moving America Forward Inc. (MAF) jointly were created in April 2003 by Mr. Richardson, chairman of this year’s Democratic National Convention, to “empower the Native-American and Hispanic communities” though intensive voter-registration and education programs.

The voter-registration drive has been funded mainly by labor unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which contributed $1 million to the effort. AFSCME’s international executive board unanimously has endorsed Mr. Kerry, saying he has “a proven record of fighting for working families and a real plan to get this country back on track.”

The MAF political action committee is thought to have spent about $3 million and used more than 100 organizers to register new voters in the five battleground states. As a legal 527 tax-exempt organization, it has not yet been required under Internal Revenue Service rules to list its contributors and expenditures.

According to MAFF’s Web site, many of those who signed registration forms were residents of the numerous Indian reservations in those states.

“The Native-American vote matters, especially in an election this close,” Patti Hibbeler, MAFF’s outreach director, said in a statement. “Everyone should take part to help impact policy in Indian country. Moving America Forward Foundation is here to help tribes and urban Indian communities get represented in the democratic process and make a difference.”

Less than 20 percent of the nation’s American Indians are thought to be registered to vote, according to the foundation, which worked with the National Congress of American Indians and its voter-registration committee, Native Vote 2004, to identify potential voters.

Mr. Richardson, former secretary of energy and ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration who was elected as New Mexico’s Democratic governor in November 2002, vigorously has opposed the re-election of President Bush. He has said Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico are key to Mr. Kerry’s election.

Mr. Richardson’s foundation also has received $20,000 from the Tides Foundation, which, in the past, has been the beneficiary of grant money from the $1.2 billion Howard Heinz Endowment, chaired by Mr. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.

The Tides Foundation, according to its Web site, said the Moving America Forward Foundation intended to register more than 160,000 Latino, Hispanic and American-Indian voters — targeting the Southwest, which it described as the “fastest-growing region in the United States — mostly through the rising numbers of Latinos.”

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