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As an update to my earlier post on the Women's Vote Women's Voices calls, we can show you an example of the voter registration packet the group has been sending out.

Thanks to TPM Reader PC, here is a mailer received by a reader in Oregon, one of the 24 states (pdf) where the group has sent mailers.

The mailer was addressed to PC's wife, and he says she received not one but two copies. He also notes that the mailer arrived just as the deadline to register in Oregon's presidential primary passed. That's been a persistent problem for the group, not only in North Carolina, but also in Virginia and Wisconsin. Wisconsin officials even issued a press release lecturing the group on its methods, saying that the forms would create more confusion and that voters who needlessly registered twice would have to re-register at the polling place because they'd registered past the primary deadline (Wisconsin allows same-day registration). "It's unfortunate that such groups do not inform voters of our deadlines," said Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board.

So while the spokeswoman for the group told me that the North Carolina calls and mailers were a mix up, it seems that the group has gotten mixed up a number of times before.

Update: As Facing South notes, the mailers originally had language saying that recipients were "required" to mail back the form. That language was dropped after complaints in a number of states and from a number of state officials.

Yesterday we posted about suspicious calls being made in North Carolina. The calls purported to be from a man who identified himself only as "Lamont Williams" and told people to wait for a vote registration packet in the mail and said, "All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard."

Democracy North Carolina, a government watchdog, cried foul, saying that the calls went out to "black neighborhoods" and was evidently a vote suppression tactic since the registration deadline for the presidential primary has already passed. The North Carolina state elections board got involved and asked for the public's help in determining the source of the calls, which apparently blocked caller ID from showing the number. You can listen to the call here (wav).

Now Facing South reports that a Washington nonprofit called Women's Voices Women Vote is behind the calls.

The group's spokeswoman Sarah Johnson confirmed to me that those were the group's calls and said that they were part of an effort to register three million women voters in 24 states. The fact that the calls came shortly before the North Carolina primary, potentially confusing voters, was unfortunate mistake, she said. We're "incredibly apologetic about the timing of this." The group was simply working at such a "high volume" that it was "extremely difficult to tailor the mailing to every single state's schedule," she said. The calls precede the mailers, she said, because it increases the rate of response.

The group had also let the state board of elections know prior to sending out the mailings that they would be doing so, but the letter to the board did not mention the calls. You can read that letter, provided by the group, here.

The group is currently in the process of halting the mailed packets, she said, at the request of the Democracy North Carolina and the state board of elections. The calls have also stopped.

As for why the group's calls had used an apparently fictitious persona named "Lamont Williams," Johnson first said, "as far as I know, it is a recorded message." But when I asked why the group had used that name when there is no such person working with the group, she said she did not know why the name had been used.

The group also used a female caller named "Julie," Johnson said (although she was not sure of the name). She told me that she would check to see if there was any particular reason why certain calls were made by Julie and others by Lamont.

But that practice would stop, she said. "This not identifying ourselves on the call, that's not something that is going to continue as we move forward. Our phone calls in the future will correct any confusion about the calls." When I asked if there had been any particular strategy behind not identifying the group as making the calls, she said no.

A statement released by the group's executive director is below.

Update: As Facing South notes in detail, this is not the first time that there have been complaints about WVWV's activities. There have been complaints in several states.

And in Virginia this February, the state police there even investigated the calls as a possible identity theft scam, only to find that WVWV was behind them. The calls had gone out shortly before the Virginia presidential primary.

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The latest contribution to good government from Vice President Dick Cheney: preventing the implementation of rules to protect the endangered right whale.

This comes from a letter House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent to the White House today, requesting that the administration quit delaying the rules, which would restrict the speed of ships near American ports. Faster moving ships hit the whales, causing injury or death, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say.

But not so, says Cheney's office and other White House officials, who have delayed approving the NOAA's submitted rules. One exchange Waxman obtained is typical, he says (pdf):

Another internal document shows that the officials working for the Vice President also raised spurious objections to the science. According to this document, the Vice President's staff "contends that we have no evidence (i.e., hard data) that lowering the speeds of 'large ships' will actually make a difference. NOAA rejected these objections, writing that both a statistical analysis of ship strike records and the peer-reviewed literature justified the final rule. In its response to the objections from the Vice President's staff, NOAA reported that there is "no basis to overturn our previous conclusion that imposing a speed limit on large vessels would be beneficial to whales.

In his conclusion, Waxman wonders why Cheney's office seems so invested in the topic:

While I appreciate the value of vigorous scientific debate, I question why White House economic advisors are apparently conducting their own research on right whales and why the Vice President's staff is challenging the conclusions of the government's scientific experts. The appearance is that the White House rejects the conclusions of its own scientists and peer-reviewed scientific studies because it does not like the policy implications of the data. This is not how the review process is supposed to work.

In his letter, Waxman requests copies of White House communications about the rule and that the White House allow the rule to go forward.

As generous as Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is with earmarks, it's natural for beneficiaries to occasionally get carried away with their gratitude. From Roll Call (sub. req.):

The Interior Department inspector general has opened an investigation into whether federal money was inappropriately used to pay for a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Alaska Volcano Observatory that recognized its chief patron, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), according to information obtained by Roll Call.

Sources say the IG is looking into the funding behind the event at the Russell Senate Office Building....

At issue is whether federal dollars were used in connection with a lobbying event. Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds for such an activity, either directly through the Geological Survey or indirectly through the observatory, which receives much of its funding from Stevens' earmarks....

The April 2 event was an "education opportunity and event," [lobbyist Martha Stewart] said, adding that the sponsors also used it as a chance to offer Stevens a "thank you" for his work.

Of course, with a federal grand jury digging into Uncle Ted's ties to Veco, this is the least of his worries.

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty have been accused of perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice after lying about their relationship to officials. Text messages the two sent each other on city-owned pagers prove their relationship, as well as Kilpatrick's role in the firing of a Detroit police officer. Now even more messages have been released. (New York Times)

As federal earmarks continue to be a hot topic in this election season, congressional records show Sen. Hillary Clinton leading the pack in requested handouts for 2009 at nearly $2.3 billion, almost three times more than any other senator. (The Hill)

Former defense contractor Mitchell Wade will finally receive sentencing from a federal judge in December for bribing former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Cunningham is currently serving jail time, as is fellow Cunningham-briber Brent Wilkes who worked with Wade. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

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It's the Bush administration's special approach to accountability: stand staunchly beside an administration official as the allegations pile up and his or her credibility dwindles to nothing, and then months later -- long after the administration could derive any credit for the deed, and it is widely assumed that they are content to let the official fester in office for the duration -- the official abruptly and inexplicably resigns. So it was with Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales. And yesterday General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan stepped down.

But Doan, who gained mucky prominence for her clueless cronyism, wants everybody to know that she's not stepping down voluntarily. She was fired. And not only was she fired, but she was fired because she refused to cave to political pressure. Or something.

"I would rather get fired for something I believe in, and a cause I was willing to fight for, rather than to believe in nothing worth being fired for." That's what Doan told Government Executive in an email last night. It's far from clear precisely what this "something" she believes in is.

What we do know is that last June, the Office of Special Counsel recommended to the White House that Doan be fired for violating the Hatch Act. And that same month, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) told Doan to her face during a House oversight committee hearing that she should resign. And now, nearly a year later, the White House summons her for a meeting and asks for her resignation.

To refresh your memory on Doan's parade of horribles: her Golden-Duke-nomination-worthy testimony came in response to a meeting in early 2007, where Karl Rove's aide Scott Jennings came to brief GSA staff on the prospects for Republicans in the 2008 elections. The PowerPoint presentation detailed which seats were "House Targets" and which "Senate Targets", which states were "Republican Offense," and which "Republican Defense." For those who've never witnessed this proud moment in administration history, Doan's initial blubbering testimony on the topic is worth a watch:

After the presentation, Doan asked Jennings in front of everyone how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates." Jennings replied that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up." At least, that's the version given by "half a dozen witnesses" to The Washington Post and the Office of Special Counsel. Doan just couldn't remember saying anything like that.

And then there was Doan's alleged retaliation against employees who gave information to the Office of Special Counsel. Those were poor performers, she told investigators, and "[u]ntil extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, they will not be getting promoted and will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature." In another cringe-inducing turn before Waxman's committee, Doan tried to explain away that comment by saying she had been employing the "hortatory subjunctive" -- an explanation remarkable for not only failing to exculpate her, but also being grammatically incorrect.

We'll miss you, Lurita.

Update: Government Executive reports that the timing of Doan's resignation might have something to do with her ongoing feud with the GSA's inspector general.

In this morning's writeup of Supreme Court's decision on Indiana's voter ID law, The New York Times quoted someone familiar to TPM readers:

"This decision not only confirms the validity of photo ID laws, but it completely vindicates the Bush Justice Department and refutes those critics who claimed that the department somehow acted improperly when it approved Georgia's photo ID law in 2005," said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a former Justice Department official.

It's a reaction laden with a number of distortions. But the key one has to do with a crucial difference between Georgia's 2005 law and Indiana's law, as Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told me. Rich, who last year opposed Spakovsky' nomination to the FEC along with a group of other former voting section professionals, called Spakovsky's contention that yesterday's ruling vindicated his actions "disingenuous."

"The Georgia law reviewed by the Justice Department required voters seeking the required voter ID to pay a fee that a federal court found created an unconstitutional poll tax," Rich said. "But in Indiana the Supreme Court explicitly noted that photo identification cards 'issued by Indiana's [Bureau of Motor Vehicles] are . . . free' and thus there was no issue of creating an unconstitutional poll tax."

Spakovsky and other political appointees overruled staff attorneys who'd recommended against approving Georgia's voter ID law, because of concerns that the law would discriminate against poor and minority voters. It was just a part of Spakovsky's legacy of ignoring and intimidating section employees, and generally doing what he could to effect policies that would disenfranchise voters.

Under the Voting Rights Act, parts of the country with a history of discrimination must demonstrate to the Justice Department that new legislation does not discriminate against minority voters. In the case of Georgia's law, supporters of the law didn't do much of anything to demonstrate that the law wouldn't discriminate against African-Americans.

In fact, quite the opposite. Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister, the sponsor of the bill, told voting section staff that "if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud," and that "when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."

Indiana's law had not required review by the Justice Department, Rich said. "Therefore, there was no issue in review of the Indiana law concerning whether the state could meet its burden of demonstrating that the law did not hurt minority voters, as is required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That was the only issue before Justice Department in its review of the Georgia law and career attorneys, in an in-depth memo, found that the law did hurt minority voters and accordingly recommended an objection to the law."

So I think it's fair to say that Spakovsky has yet to be "completely vindicated."

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shipped to the White House on Tuesday a compromise plan on Federal Election Commission nominees, a deal that is likely dead on arrival because it does not meet GOP demands on Hans von Spakovsky.

"You are aware that Mr. von Spakovsky does not have majority support to win confirmation," Reid wrote Tuesday in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. "It is my understanding that you have two additional Republican FEC candidates cleared for nomination.

"One would fill Mr. von Spakovsky's seat should he be defeated or withdrawn, and the other would fill the vacant Republican seat," Reid continued. "You already have the non-controversial re-nomination of sitting commissioner David Mason pending."

You can read Reid's letter to White House chief of staff Josh Bolten here. But as Roll Call says, Republicans have thus far refused to budge on any deal that doesn't include Spakovsky getting packaged in a vote with the other less controversial nominees. And so the FEC remains officially dormant and the complaints against allegedly outlaw campaign activity continue to pile up.

Here's another for the annals of vote suppression. Calls have gone out to an untold number of North Carolina voters telling them that they need to fill out a registration form before they vote. Democracy North Carolina, a government watchdog that has posted audio (wav) of the call, says that the calls went out to "black neighborhoods."

It seems not to be a scheme limited to North Carolina. As Facing South reports, the same call evidently went out to some voters in Columbus, Ohio two days before municipal elections there last November, and also in Virginia the week before the Democratic primary there this February.

Here's how one reader of the Buckeye State Blog described the Ohio call back in November:

From memory, a stentorian voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones says: "Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In a few days you should be getting a voter registration form in the mail. Please fill it out and return promptly and you will be able to vote. Thank you."

Since the election is Tuesday, the message is nonsensical. Also, I can't find any information on this Lamont Williams. The caller ID was blocked ("unknown caller").

A transcript of the call released by the North Carolina State Board of Elections matches that description:

"Hello, this is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return the voter registration form when it arrives. Thank you."

And in Virginia, the Washington, DC NPR affiliate WAMU reported in February that "at least a dozen people in central and southern Virginia have received automated phone calls this week telling them to expect a voter registration packet in the mail." Facing South reports that the a state elections board spokeswoman said the matter had been referred to state police, and that it wasn't clear whether the calls also claimed to come from a Lamont Williams. But certainly the parallels are suspicious.

If Lamont has popped up anywhere else or pops up anywhere else, let us know.

Last month, Democrats, with the help of a few crossover Republicans (but not Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)), passed a bill that would have limited the CIA's interrogation techniques to those authorized by the Army Field Manual. Waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques (use of hoods or duct tape over the eyes, inducing hypothermia, etc.) would have been specifically and unambiguously outlawed.

President Bush, as promised, vetoed that bill, saying that restricting CIA interrogators "could cost American lives." An override vote failed in the House.

Now Senate Democrats are going to try again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she'll introduce the measure as an amendment to 2009's Senate intelligence authorization bill, because "at the time [of the veto] we vowed to come back - again and again if necessary - to ensure that torture by U.S. intelligence agencies is outlawed for good." Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are also sponsoring the amendment. Over the weekend, Wyden released correspondence from the Justice Department showing how lawyers there dealt with current ambiguity in the relevant laws. What counted as an "outrage upon personal dignity," a DoJ official wrote, depended on whether "an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack."