- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Justice Department is being sued by a conservative legal watchdog group seeking to force the release of records showing any communications the department had with Project Vote, an election group formerly tied to ACORN - the now defunct community activist organization Congress barred from getting federal funds.

Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit last week after Justice failed to respond to its June 23 request seeking all records of communications between the department and Estelle Rogers, Project Vote’s director of advocacy and the organization’s primary contact person on policy matters at the federal and state levels.

Project Vote describes itself as a nonpartisan organization that since 1994 has helped register more than 5.6 million Americans in low-income and minority communities. It often worked with ACORN on voter registration drives.

Judicial Watch said it is investigating the extent to which Justice and Project Vote cooperate in using the National Voting Rights Act to help register more people on public assistance - voters who the watchdog agency thinks would be a key demographic for President Obama’s 2012 campaign.

“Judicial Watch is convinced that Project Vote’s activities remain a threat to the integrity of our elections,” said Tom Fitton, the watchdog group’s president. “The American people deserve to know if the nation’s highest law enforcement agency has become nothing more than a political tool to help this scandalous ACORN-front group re-elect Barack Obama.”

Project Vote has been “aggressively” pushing state election officials to change their policies to increase the number of registrations of people receiving public assistance, according to Judicial Watch. Under the law, states are required to offer voter registration service at all public assistance agencies including unemployment and food stamp offices.

“We suspect that they have been working together,” Mr. Fitton said.

In a press release Wednesday, the watchdog group pointed out that Justice accused the state of Louisiana in a lawsuit in July of violating the voting rights act less than three months after Project Hope and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a similar lawsuit.

Mr. Fitton said it would be “a scandal” if Justice and Project Vote “are working together on anything.” He said the Justice Department “ought to be investigating Project Hope and added that Ms. Rogers had worked as an attorney for ACORN.

Congress cut off ACORN’s federal funding in 2009 after allegations of voter registration fraud and embezzlement.

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa declined to comment on the lawsuit. Ms. Rogers and a spokesman for Project Vote did not respond to requests for comment.

• Chuck Neubauer can be reached at cneubauer@washingtontimes.com.

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