Don’t miss Rick Hasen’s excellent rundown over at Slate on the voter-fraud hype shop American Center for Voting Rights.
Little more than a name to serve as a fig leaf to Republican operatives, ACVR was created, Hasen writes, to “give ‘think tank’ academic cachet to the unproven idea that voter fraud is a major problem in elections.”
That effort to give claims of voter fraud legitimacy explains a lot about what’s been happening in the Justice Department. It explains why the administration pressured U.S. attorneys to pursue voter fraud cases and fired the ones who didn’t deliver. And it explains why political appointees ruled the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division with such an iron grip.
Here’s the apparent scheme from A to Z: ACVR (a think tank with a respectable name) would seize on instances of prosecuted voter fraud by U.S. attorneys (a respected group) to push for voter ID laws. And then once Republicans in the state legislatures passed the laws, the political appointees that ran the Civil Rights Division (a once revered institution) would make sure that the career staff in the voting rights section didn’t get in the way. Opponents of the laws would never know what hit them.
There was, as should be expected, some crossover among these groups. A number of political appointees in the Civil Rights Division were sent out to be U.S. attorneys (e.g. Kansas City’s Brad Schlozman, among others). And there’s at least one case of a political appointee in the Civil Rights Division moving on to work for the American Center for Voting Rights.Jason Torchinsky, in fact, has held a variety of key positions since graduating law school in 2001. In addition to working at the White House counsel’s office under Alberto Gonzales, Torchinsky was Deputy General Counsel to Bush-Cheney ’04 and Counsel to the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Committee, according to an online bio. At the Justice Department, he had a short stint in the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee as a Special Assistant USA (he did not handle any voting related cases, according to filings) and was a junior political appointee in the Civil Rights Division. When he left the Division, he held the title of Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General.
Once out of the division, Torchinsky went to work for ACVR (it’s worth noting that Torchinsky most likely worked together with ACVR head Mark “Thor” Hearne on Bush-Cheney ’04, where Hearne was national election counsel).
Unsurprisingly, Torchinsky makes an appearance in the bipartisan draft fraud report ordered by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission — the report that was suppressed last year after it concluded that there was very little actual voter fraud. Torchinsky was the lone holdout:
“Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights is the only interviewee who believes that polling place fraud is widespread and among the most significant problems in the system.”
But as Slate notes, ACVR and its website abruptly disappeared in March of this year (ACVR was little more than a name and a P.O. Box anyway). Don’t worry about Torchinsky, though — he currently works for the Republican law firm Holtzman Vogel as a senior associate.
TPMmuckraker readers, actually, might already recognize him from his work there. When we were investigating who had created a front group called the Progressive Policy Council that was sending out mailers attacking Democratic Senate candidate Bob Casey from the left, the only available corporate records showed that the group’s charter was filed by Torchinsky. As it did throughout the 2006 campaign, the group’s website still promises, “Full site coming soon!” So perhaps we haven’t seen the last of the PPC — or Torchinsky.