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Posted July 3, 2007 by J. Gerald Hebert

Hans von Spakovsky’s Culture of Corruption

It should come as no great surprise that Hans von Spakovsky’s long record of vote suppression and using the machinery of Government to inject his partisan point of view did not end when he left the Department of Justice (DOJ) for his recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).  Recently released documents from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) reveal that while at DOJ von Spakovsky petitioned for the removal of a researcher hired to co-author a study on voter fraud and voter ID requirements on behalf of the EAC.   Unsuccessful in this attempt, he later sought out individuals to discredit the findings of the study while he was a sitting Commissioner at the FEC. 

Over the course of the last week, I have been wading through the thousands of pages of documents produced for the Congress by the EAC.  The House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules Committee are planning to hold oversight hearings this summer.  In the House in particular, staffers are focusing closely on the links between the EAC and DOJ.  In addition, a number of groups have asked questions about whether the EAC altered or delayed research in connection with a report on voter fraud and vote identification issues authored for the EAC by Tova Wang and Job Serebrov.

In my review of the EAC documents I have come across several items involving von Spakovsky and his involvement in the EAC controversy.  For example, the documents show that von Spakovsky sent an e-mail to the EAC Commissioners on October 18, 2005 complaining about the selection of Tova Wang to write the report on voter fraud/intimidation issues (page 026152).  Among other things, he states: “There are numerous more examples of [Tova’s] partisan opinions and attacks and demonstrably false claims against Republicans and election officials in general, such as her baseless charge in another article that ‘partisan election officials and party leaders usurped the [2004 election] process and manipulated the new federal voting law in ways that disenfranchised voters.’”  Von Spakovsky concludes his e-mail by stating that he “strongly recommends that the EAC reconsider the awarding of this contract.”  

His e-mail to the EAC Commissioners provoked a sharply worded reply from EAC Vice Chair Paul DeGregorio (page 026151) that begins: “I wish you had shown us the decency to have spoken to someone at EAC before you sent this e-mail.”  DeGregorio then informs von Spakovsky that had he inquired of the EAC before writing his e-mail, he would have learned that Wang was paired with Job Serebrov, “a conservative attorney who like you, has served on a local election board[.]”  DeGregorio also informs von Spakovsky of Serebrov’s conservative and Republican credentials, noting that he “was counsel to the Arkansas GOP on ballot integrity issues and was the ballot protection specialist for Mike Huckabee in his campaign for Lt. Governor.”    The DeGregorio e-mail also states that von Spakovsky had a wide ranging discussion a week earlier with the EAC Research Manager (Karen Lynn-Dyson) and “never brought this issue up.”  von Spakovsky replies to DeGregorio the next morning with this curt reply: “perhaps if the Board of Advisors were kept better informed, I would not have been put in this position.”  (page 026151).   When Lynn-Dyson is sent the e-mail traffic between von Spakovsky and DeGregorio, she writes DeGregorio saying: “So did Hans retract his earlier statements to his colleagues on the Advisory Board or have they been at least informed that Tova was paired with Job ?”  (026158).  She concludes: “Also, does Hans know how to say ‘mea culpa’ ?”  Apparently not, Ms. Lynn-Dyson. 

It is important to point out here that under federal statute, von Spakovsky’s should never have been serving on the EAC Advisory Board in the first place.  As seven former DOJ professionals pointed out in their June 18 letter to the Senate Rules Committee, von Spakovsky usurped the Advisory Board position which, “was reserved explicitly by Section 214(a)(13) of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) for ‘the chief of the voting section . . . or the chief's designee’ even though the Section chief had never designated Mr. von Spakovsky for this position.”  This power grab, for clearly partisan ends and in violation of HAVA, is hardly the act of a middle manager; yet under oath this is the term von Spakovsky repeatedly used to describe himself.  As the letters from the DOJ attorneys of June 11 and June 18, make clear, von Spakovsky in his time at Justice behaved like what he was – an Administration appointee with carte blanche to run the Voting Section.   

I will continue to review the EAC documents to see if they shed any light on whether any present or former DOJ official (including von Spakovsky) put pressure on the EAC to change the Wang-Serebrov report.  In the meantime, though, it appears that von Spakovsky continued to inject himself into the EAC voter fraud controversy even after he had left DOJ and was serving as a recess appointment at the FEC.  For example, once the scandal broke this past Spring regarding the altered EAC report on voter fraud, von Spakovsky sent an e-mail on April 10, 2007, (page 025525) to economist/author John Lott:

"Have you seen the controversy over the release of a study done under contract for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on voter id and voter turnout….

"Basically, the EAC awarded the contract to individuals who had lots of prior writings indicating their opposition to any voter id requirements.  When they did the study, it apparently didn’t come out showing the way they wanted it to show, so they recast the numbers to come to the conclusion they wanted…."

I would be interested in Tova Wang and Job Serebrov’s response to this characterization of their work and the process they followed in reaching their conclusions.  But there’s more.  Von Spakovsky concludes the e-mail by urging Mr. Lott to do some analysis of his own, points out his own perceived methodological flaws in the Wang-Serebrov study and then says: “This study is now being trumpeted as proof that voter ID hurts turnout, and if it is a flawed study, someone with your kind of reputation needs to point that out.  If you are interested in doing this, Caroline Hunter, one of the new commissioners at the EAC, would be happy to provide you with whatever information you might need.”  (page 025526).   It will be interesting to see if the new EAC Commissioner Caroline Hunter, whose assistance von Spakovsky offered up to Mr. Lott, has had any telephone conversations or email exchanges with von Spakovsky about a campaign to trash the Wang-Serebrov report.  It seems unlikely that von Spakovsky would volunteer her assistance without having communicated with her first? 

Von Spakovsky’s continued efforts to defend voter ID laws and to undermine those who do not believe that voter fraud is the epidemic that the GOP has claimed it to be are, of course, consistent with his efforts to advance the GOP agenda during his days as a DOJ official. 

For those who may claim that von Spakovsky discontinued his efforts to advance his partisan agenda after he was recess appointed to the FEC, the e-mail to Lott shows that his days of using his federal position to advance his own partisan agenda are far from over. 

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