The hotly contested presidential race in 2000 was effectively decided by 537 votes in Florida. The 2004 Washington state governor’s race was settled by 133 votes. Closer to home, the 2005 state attorney general’s race in Virginia was won by 323 votes out of 1.94 million cast.
And yet, in an editorial that ran on Oct. 25, a scant 10 days before the presidential election, The Washington Post’s attitude toward voter fraud perpetrated by the left-wing activist Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, seemed to be “Don’t worry; be happy.”
The Post’s editorial, “The ACORN Storm: From John McCain, hyperbole about potential voter fraud,” blithely dismissed concerns that ACORN, which was and is under investigation by the FBI in at least a dozen states, had registered hundreds of thousands of new voters - untold tens of thousands of which have been found to be invalid.
Despite those numbers being far greater than the margins of victory in any of the examples cited above, concerns for electoral integrity were “unwarranted,” according to The Post.
It’s highly doubtful that Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who clung to a slender 215-vote lead over his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, out of 2.9 million cast going into a recount shares that sentiment - especially when you consider that ACORN filed more than 43,000 new registrations in Minnesota, or about three-quarters of all new registrations prior to the election in the Gopher State, according to NewsMax.com.
It’s not clear whether Minnesota is one of the states where ACORN’s practices are being probed; neither the FBI nor the Justice Department would say. But with Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a hyperpartisan Democrat who was endorsed by ACORN in his 2006 election, as one of five people overseeing the recount, Mr. Coleman should rightly be afraid, very afraid of having the election stolen out from under him.
Mr. Ritchie - like President-elect Barack Obama, a former community organizer - gained office with the help of the Secretary of State Project, an independent 527 group co-founded by one-time MoveOn.orgleader James Rucker. SOS is based in San Francisco and funded in part by left-wing kingmakers such as billionaire George Soros, according to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. And what is the chief responsibility of most secretaries of state? Overseeing the election process. (How does the Left rig elections? Let me count the ways: early voting; suddenly discovered uncounted ballots; selective, partial recounts; same-day registration; and unchecked immigration, dubbed by talk-show host Mark Levin as “importing Democrats,” among others.)
But I digress. Leaving aside the question of whether The Post would have been equally dismissive of voter-fraud concerns if ACORN was a conservative group that had been working to elect Mr. McCain president, rather than a liberal organization with long and deep ties to Mr. Obama, it’s hardly “hyperbole” to be alarmed at ACORN’s long track record of questionable (at best) voter-registration practices.
That’s why the Justice Department should bring a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) prosecution against ACORN nationally, and shut it down permanently before it can taint any more elections by delivering its legions of multiply (or otherwise fraudulently) registered “voters” to the polls. (And remember, too, that while high-profile contests like the ones cited above make the headlines, there’s no way of knowing how many closely contested down-ballot races - from city council members and county commissioners to state representatives and senators - ACORN may affect the outcomes of with its suspect electioneering.)
RICO, enacted as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 in October of that year, was intended to make it easier to prosecute organized crime figures, but G. Robert Blakey, who drafted the legislation, said Congress never intended it to apply only to mafiosi. He once told Time magazine: “We don’t want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have Ivy League diplomas.”
RICO provides for extended penalties for criminal acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. Under the RICO law, there are 35 state and federal crimes that fall under the heading of racketeering activity; for the purposes of prosecuting ACORN, at least two - fraud and bribery - would seem to apply. Further, RICO-related charges are considered easy to prove in court, as the focus is on patterns of illicit behavior, as opposed to criminal acts, and ACORN has nothing if not a pattern of such behavior.
In mid-September, a group of 39 Republican congressman called on the Justice Department to investigate ACORN for what Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida has called the group’s “vandalism of electoral integrity,” noting that “every vote cast illegally cancels out the vote of an American citizen.”
With a scant six weeks left in this administration, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey should promptly initiate a review of a possible RICO prosecution, because President Obama - with ties to ACORN dating back to at least 1995 - certainly will have no incentive, let alone desire, to bring charges. (At the same time, Congress should rescind the millions of dollars in federal funds going to the ACORN Housing Corp., its tax-exempt affiliate, which receives 40 percent of its funding from taxpayers, and should investigate whether any of that money is being diverted to financing the voter fraud.)
Finally, if the Bush Justice Department declines to prosecute, the RICO statute also permits private parties harmed by the actions of an ongoing “criminal enterprise” to file civil suits in either state or federal court; if successful, the plaintiffs can collect treble damages.
Are you listening, Republican National Committee?
• Peter J. Parisi is an editor at The Washington Times. His e-mail address is found here.