Thursday, October 22, 2009

Project Vote: A twisted branch of the ACORN tree


A strange anomaly occurs whenever the phrase "voter registration fraud" is searched. Who's responsible for that? Perhaps the players? Search the Internet and you will find dozens of stories on the Association of Community Organizations For Reform Now or ACORN on a never ending stream of Google results. However, Project Vote (Voting for America) is often only listed as an affiliate. Articles posted by the mainstream media tend to downplay Project Vote's role or is it something else?

In the fall of 2005 I answered an ad posted on Idealist.org similar to the one provided by the Capital Research Center below. It was the beginning of my journey with ACORN. Throughout the interview process I never heard the words Project Vote, only ACORN. The goal was to make sure that I was ideologically aligned with the principles -and I use that term loosely – of ACORN.




When I came to Washington, D.C. to start working for ACORN, it quickly became evident to me that Project Vote did not have a lot of employees and was a part of ACORN. Often we employees wore many hats and worked weekends and late nights with the sense that we were doing it for the “movement.” 


One of my first assignments at Project Vote was to research the voter registration fraud allegations from 2004. It was not hard to discern a pattern in how the accusations were processed: ACORN blamed an employee, the employee was fired, vilified, tried and sentenced. Case closed. Every time Project Vote remain unscathed while ACORN cried racism and attacked the “evil right-wingers.” What I then speculated is that Project Vote did not have the field capacity to run the voter registration drives without ACORN. Project Vote existed because of ACORN and did not seem like it could continue without it. Besides shared offices across the country; there were people like myself who held duel positions in both organizations. Senator Chuck Grassley requested information related to the tax status of ACORN entities and it was determined that:
“Per its 2006 Form 990, Project Vote received $8,688,580 in direct public support,and $250,759 in contractual fees. It then paid $4,649,037 to ACORN for contractual and campaign services and $779,016 to Citizens Consulting, Inc. Thus, $5,428,023, or over 60% of its revenues, was paid to two taxable, affiliated entities (emphasis mine).
"...In general, the flow of money among the ACORN family of organizations is a big shell came. Dollars raised for charitable activity appear to be used for impermissible lobbying and political activity. This is similar to the use of charities by Jack Abramoff. Similar to those organizations, charities are being used to raise monies which are then funneled to other charities or other organizations for purposes other than what a donor may have intended.”
On the ACORN side, I was part of political operations. POLOPS, as we called it during my tenure, had Zach Polett as its point person. Zach ran Project Vote, ACORN Political Operations, and sometimes, Citizens Services Inc. (CSI). Voter registration drives, lawsuits, youth voting, etc were all handled by this main ACORN nebulous, and I watched it run like a slightly inept machine. Over the years Project Vote has loudly protested that it is not a part of ACORN. Barack Obama's Fight the Smears website also makes this absurd claim.




After the New York Times broke the ACORN embezzlement scandal in July of 2008 and subsequently released portions of the Elizabeth Kingsley report, recommendations were made about improving the overall operation of the affiliates. In particular the roles of the board members was discussed at length. According to information provided by former board members in July of 2008, not only was the board unaware of the embezzlement, but some of the affiliate board members were not even aware that they were on the board! Project Vote replaced a few of its board members, but somehow managed to still stock it with trusted ACORN insiders. A look at their website illustrates this point.



A quick search of the Internet yields tons of information on the active role the board members have played in ACORN and bloggers have reviewed these ACORN ties. What is most interesting is that now a year after ACORN pledged to clean up their ranks, these same board members continue an active role in supporting ACORN while it appears that they only represent Project Vote on paper. I have included a brief summary of some conflicting ACORN activities of “non partisan” Project Vote's board members

Donna Massey: President – A New Party alum from ACORN's home state of Arkansas, Massey, acts as co-chair of Arkansas ACORN and chairs the ACORN PAC, a political action committee that actively endorses Democrat candidates. After the “reforms” put in place after the embezzlement scandal, Massey has been active in the SEIU aligned Health Care for Reform Now (HCAN).






Maxine Nelson, Vice-President – Nelson was on the board of Project Vote for years as its president and is a longtime ACORN insider who also sits on the national board of ACORN. Nelson's bio speaks for itself:

Organizations: ACORN member (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) since 1986.
Offices held: Chair of ACORN Political Action Committee; Secretary; Asst. State Chair; Chair, Jefferson County ACORN; Delegate to ACORN Associate Board since 1999, also served as Southern Regional Representative.
PROJECT VOTE President since 1998

 After the ACORN prostitution scandal hit, Nelson could be found making the rounds on the “denial” tour for ACORN:
It’s not going to affect what we do locally,” she said after the rally on the state Capitol steps. “We work in the neighborhood, we work on issues that affect the every day citizen. We will continue to work on our issues like health care reform, which is not only a national issue but it’s a local issue.”
Sunday Alabi, Board Treasurer: Alabi's name may sound familiar to some, in 2008 he was implicated in what appeared to be a cover up of the Obama presidential campaign's payment to CSI. Like Nelson, Alabi seems to have spent much of the fall doing damage control for  ACORN after the prostitution scandal broke:

"We're shocked to see those things happen," said Sunday Alabi, who sits on ACORN's state and national boards. He said the people who made the video didn't visit the Minnesota office.”
Not only has Alabi endorsed candidates through Minnesota's ACORN PAC, but like many ACORN board members Alabi appears to have a political agenda that supports Democrats while attacking conservatives like Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota:

Minnesota ACORN Board Member Sunday Alabi:
"It is sad that Rep. Bachmann isn't focusing on the very real issues facing the 6th Congressional District, which, for example, has the highest foreclosure rate in Minnesota. ACORN is working hard every day in Minnesota to stop predatory lending, and is even helping Rep. Bachmann's own constituents to save their homes. Meanwhile, Rep. Bachmann seems more interested in partisan witch hunts. We are concerned that she is trying to paper over the fact that she has once again sided with the predatory lenders and neglected the residents of the 6th Congressional District."

As public scrutiny of ACORN reaches a fever pitch and ACORN scrambles to cover their tracks it appears that these efforts are only cosmetic. Like the plaster wall Project Vote added in the DC office to “separate” it from ACORN national and DC local in preparation for the 2008 elections, the changes have not touched the core of the ACORN empire.






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