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Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an FEC complaint today against Sarah Palin and the Republican National Committee for violating federal election law in spending $150,000 outfitting the Alaska governor.

The group claims the excessive spending is a violation of campaign finance law which specifically prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal use.

"It is ridiculous that RNC would spend $150,000 to outfit a vice presidential nominee and her family at any time, but it is more outrageous given the dire financial straights of so many Americans and the state of our economy," CREW director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. "If the RNC had an extra $150,000 to throw around, there were better alternatives than pricey designer clothes."

Earlier this week, the RNC responded to possible violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by stating that all of Palin's clothes would be donated to charity after the election.

The jury in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens sent three more notes to Judge Emmet Sullivan today, one of which specifically asked the judge to "please clarify the liability cost as it is not readily clear in Senate regulations," The Hill reports.

After receiving the notes, Sullivan sent the jurors to lunch early and asked attorneys from the case to return to court this afternoon for a bench conference to discuss how to instruct the jury.

From The Hill:

Sullivan proposed telling the jurors that the financial disclosure forms require "the filer to disclose the amount of liabilities in excess of $10,000 that were owed by the filer in any point in time during the calendar year." But Robert Cary, Stevens's defense lawyer, called the statement an "oversimplification" and asked to give the jurors a more elaborate explanation.


Today is only the first full day of deliberations for the jury, who were given instructions yesterday morning.

Late update: It looks like one of the jurors may be dismissed for "disruptive, rude and violent" behavior, the AP reports. We'll keep you updated as we hear more.

Late update. . . 2:33 pm: More details are emerging on the "violent" juror. The Hill describes her as a "middle-aged. . bookkeeper for the D.C. National Guard." According to Politico, one of the jury's notes to Sullivan says the woman "has had violent outbursts with other jurors and that's not helping anyone. She is not following the laws and rules that were stipulated."

Late update. . . 2:56pm: After discussing with attorneys from both sides, it doesn't look like the "violent" juror won't be going anywhere.

From the AP:

Worried about disrupting the process, Sullivan opted not to remove the woman. He spoke with jurors, told them how important their job was, urged them to be civil and sent them back to continue deliberating.


Late update. . .6:29pm: The Washington Post has a copy of the note sent from the jury to Sullivan requestion that juror #9 be removed. Read it here.

It looks like some of the state and local efforts led by Republicans to stymie voters, aren't panning out.

The latest loss for the GOP comes in Wisconsin. Where the suit filed by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen requesting confirmation on thousands of voter registrations, has been thrown out by a county circuit judge.

From Wisconisn State Journal:

Judge Maryann Sumi said Van Hollen failed to state an adequate claim for bringing the lawsuit and noted that state law has consistently favored protecting citizens' right to vote. Sumi also said that Van Hollen did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

. . .DOJ spokesman Kevin St. John said the Department of Justice plans to appeal, possibly directly to the state Supreme Court.


Just yesterday, the Nevada Secretary of State rejected a GOP argument that people who corrected incomplete registration information at the polls should be forced to cast provisional ballots. And in Indiana, a judge ruled against Republican efforts to shut down early polling places in Democratic-heavy areas of a key county.

Last week, the Supreme Court sided with Ohio's Democratic Secretary of State, ruling against ruling against a Republican effort to require her to provide infomration on voters with mismatched registration information to county election officials, which could have led to GOP challenges.

Late update: TPMmuckraker caught up with Joe Wineke, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, who called the ruling "very strongly worded."

"It's great to know that the circuit court in Wisconsin understood that the rule of law is more important than partisan political campaigns," Wineke told us. "The really amazing thing to me right now is that the attorney general plans to appeal with 12 day to go till the election."

We should have a copy of the court's decision shortly, so check back soon.

Though war crimes charges against five Guantanamo Bay prisoners were dismissed Tuesday, Mohamed Jawad, the detainee whose case prompted the resignation of a military prosecutor last month, is still being held. The former prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, has accused the government of withholding evidence from the defense that might clear Jawad, who was picked up in Afghanistan as a teenager. (ProPublica/Salon) The Justice Department has declined to pursue the prosecution of two former Interior Department officials accused of corruption, citing inadequate evidence. In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed suggested the decision was motivated by a desire to "run out the clock on the many controversies surrounding this administration." (Washington Post/Press Release)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture inadequately handles discrimination cases, according to a government report out yesterday. The study, issued by the Government Accountability Office, pointed to inaccurate data and a large backlog of complaints, and suggested the creation of an oversight board for the agency. (Washington Post)

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Yesterday we told you about the latest GOP effort to make voting more difficult -- a letter sent by Nevada GOP chair Sue Lowden to Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller, arguing that people should not be able to correct incomplete registrations on the spot when going to vote. Lowden claimed that Nevada law requires voter registration to be closed three weeks before election day, and that in such cases, people should be forced to cast provisional ballots.

Now Miller's office has responded with an interpretation of the law at issue, rejecting Lowden's argument. The key excerpt:

Question: If a county clerk/registrar of voters determines that an application to register to vote is incomplete or incorrect, does Nevada law provide an opportunity for the applicant to submit a corrected application after the close of registration?

Answer: Yes. Nevada law provides the manner in which an in-person and mail-in applicant may update or correct the voter information, and may do so without losing his right to vote.


Miller has already been in the news for voting issues this cycle. Last month, he engineered a high-profile raid on an ACORN office in Las Vegas after fraudulent registration forms were submitted, despite the fact that ACORN claimed it was cooperating with investigators.

We've got a bit more information on the FBI's investigation into voter fraud that's taking place in New Mexico.

Last Friday, the Associated Press reported that FBI agents had met with Bernalillo County clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, "after she notified authorities about an estimated 1,500 possibly fraudulent voter registration cards."

And speaking today to TPMmuckraker, Toulouse Oliver added a bit of detail to that picture. She said she had passed on redacted copies of the suspicious forms (many of which had badly mismatched information, or listed addresses that did not exist) to the offices of the District Attorney and the US Attorney in the area. When the FBI contacted her, it said it had been asked to follow up by the US Attorney' office. And the meeting between Toulouse Oliver and an FBI agent was also attended by an Assistant US Attorney.

The US Attorney's office didn't return a call seeking comment. But it appears that the office is taking a lead role in the investigation.

It's worth noting that David Iglesias was fired from that very US Attorney's office largely for his reluctance to pursue bogus voter fraud claims.

What's still unclear is how closely the probe is tied to the nationwide investigation into ACORN's voter registration activities that we learned about last week. ACORN is active in Bernalillo County.

The jurors in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens have just sent a note to the judge asking to go home early, after just four hours of deliberations.

"It's kind of stressful right now, can we leave a little early? We need a moment of clarity," the juror's note read according to MSNBC.

As we reported earlier, today is the first day of deliberations in the historic trial of Stevens, who is the first sitting senator to ever be indicted.

Judge Emmet Sullivan acquiesced, letting the jurors leave early, the AP reports.

It looks like one of the numerous tricks pulled by Republicans to make it harder for black people to vote isn't going to work.

A judge in Lake County, Indiana ruled today against a GOP effort to shut down early voting centers set up in predominantly low-income African-American areas of the county.

As we reported earlier this month, county Republicans had sued to have the centers shut down, on the grounds that the law required a unanimous vote of the county election board to set up early voting centers. (The Lake County board had voted 3-2 to open them.)

Without the early voting centers, which were set up in the northern Lake County cities of Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago, residents of those cities would have had to travel over an hour to vote early in the county seat of Crown Point, which is in the southern part of the county. Barack Obama needs a strong turnout in northern Lake County if he's to have a chance of winning Indiana, a state where he's been running almost even with John McCain.

The centers have already been open for several weeks, and the court ruled that valid votes already cast will count.

From the ruling by Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider, which was obtained by TPMmuckraker from the Lake County Superior Court:

The Lake County Board of Elections and Registration is hereby enjoined from terminating the operation of in person absentee voting currently being conducted in the offices of the Clerk of the Lake Circuit Court in the courthouse buildings in Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago and the offices of the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration in Crown Point.

It is further ordered that all ballots that have already been cast at the early voting locations in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Crown Point shall not be invalidated except for instances of voter fraud.


The GOP may yet appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court. But for now, early voting continues in the Democratic stronghold of a key county in a key state.

With closing arguments finished, all that's left in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens, is jury instructions and deliberation. Those will start this morning, and depending on how long the jury deliberates, we could have a decision in the historic trial of the only sitting senator ever indicted as early as this afternoon.

So let's take this time to look back at some of the highs and lows from the four week long trial.

One of the biggest lows, for the prosecution anyway, was Judge Emmet Sullivan's exclusion of key evidence after the government failed to provide the defense with copies of evidence and never provided promised testimony.

The prosecution semi-recovered from the ruling, calling a late witness, Dave Anderson -- who worked for VECO and on Stevens' renovations -- to testify in order to compensate for some of the excluded evidence.

While it looked like this blow against the government's case seemed devastating, that was before Stevens took the stand. The seven-term senator's two days of testimony (which we blogged here and here) added a new variable to the trial and it's difficult to tell if Stevens' curmudgeonly answers on cross-examination helped or hindered his cause.

An un-related moment in the trial, but a favorite at TPM, was the possibility of Martha Stewart's attorney being called as a witness. The judge excluded his testimony, but gave this wonderful quote, captured by the Blog of Legal Times:

"The words 'Martha Stewart' mean different things to different people," Judge Sullivan said. "There is no universal meaning of 'Martha Stewart.'"


Yesterday's closing arguments, were predictably theatrical especially from the defense -- sometimes too theatrical. Stevens' attorney Brendan Sullivan was apparently modulating his voice so widely between shouts and whispers that the jury had to stop Sullivan's closing to ask him to repeat words he intimately breathed to the jurors, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The prosecution spent much of the time incredulously recalling Stevens' testimony and "growling" answers on cross-examination.

"Maybe since the defendant lives so close to the North Pole, maybe Santa and his elves came down and did this work and completed it. He had no idea," said prosecutor Brenda Morris.

And with that, we wait -- like expectant children on Christmas Eve -- for the jury to reach a decision on the fate of Sen. Stevens

Here's something sure to provide grist for a thousand new Republican attacks.

ACORN -- the community organizing group that the McCain campaign and the RNC have been working to turn into a short-hand for (unfounded) fears of voter fraud -- may have broken federal laws covering how it can spend money and resources among its many affiliates, according to a story in the New York Times.

The Grey Lady reveals that an internal report written by an ACORN lawyer spells out "concerns about potentially improper use of charitable dollars for political purposes; money transfers among the affiliates; and potential conflicts created by employees working for multiple affiliates, among other things."

The finding in the report with perhaps the most immediate significance to ACORN's prominent role in the campaign concerns the relationship between the group and Project Vote, an affiliated charity that does voter-registration work with ACORN. ACORN, a non-profit corporation, can legally do partisan political work, but Project Vote, a tax-exempt charity, can't.

The report found:

[T]he tight relationship between Project Vote and Acorn made it impossible to document that Project Vote's money had been used in a strictly nonpartisan manner. Until the embezzlement scandal broke last summer, Project Vote's board was made up entirely of Acorn staff members and Acorn members.
The report also noted that until July, the same person served as ACORN's political director and Project Vote's executive director.

Here's the argument Republicans will likely use to tie this news to their ongoing attacks on ACORN's voter-registration activities: if the non-partisan group that ACORN partners with on voter registration work is in practice controlled by ACORN proper, which can legally conduct partisan political activities, it's more plausible that the fraudulent registration forms submitted by Project Vote are part of a politically motivated scheme to sway the election -- as the GOP has been claiming, without evidence, all along -- rather than honest mistakes.

The other thing to note is that when Republicans talk about Obama's ties to ACORN, they're often talking about a short period in 1992 when he worked for Project Vote, though the relationship between the two groups appears to have been less close at the time.

So today's news will add fuel to both of those fires. But the crucial point on ACORN as it relates to this election -- that there's still essentially no evidence whatsoever of voter registration fraud actually leading to voter fraud -- is as true today as it was yesterday.

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