So just who are the “lawyers and other people” that Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican nominee for the Illinois’ Senate seat, planned to deploy to two predominately African-American neighborhoods in Chicago and two other areas of Illinois on Election Day?
Republicans are being publicly mum in the wake of the Kirk revelations, and many GOP Illinois officials didn’t return messages left for them Wednesday. But a week ago the state Republican Party posted on its website a request for volunteers for a “ballot integrity” program — and just this week the Republican National Lawyers Association was conducting training on this issue in Chicago.
According to an Oct. 6 posting on the Illinois GOP website by Chairman Pat Brady, the Republicans were seeking volunteers for their “ballot integrity” program. Brady noted that “ballot integrity will be a key ingredient to our success, and we need your help.”And another conservative group with a strong interest in voter fraud efforts was set to host a training meeting for Republican lawyers in Chicago on Tuesday night. The Republican National Lawyers Association, a group closely aligned with the Republican National Committee, hosted an event at the Union League in Chicago, where they provided training to “ensure that the elections are open, fair and honest.” The training focused on “early voting, grace period voting, absentee ballots, Election Day legal issues, canvassing, and recounts” according to an online invitation to the event. Last night, they were scheduled to host another event at the Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center in Bloomington, IL.
The Illinois GOP website also noted the RNLA events on their website, which Brady wrote that the state GOP was “hosting.” In a tweet, Brady connected the voter integrity program with the Kirk campaign. There’s another event scheduled for this upcoming Monday, which will also take place at the Union League Club, according to the website.
In what he thought was a private discussion with Republican officials in Illinois last week, Kirk bragged that he “had now funded the largest voter integrity program for 15 years in the state of Illinois.” It was not clear if he was funding the initiative himself, if his campaign was paying for the effort, or if it was the Illinois Republican Party picking up the tab.
Kirk didn’t mention what organizations he was working with when talking with Republicans in the state last week, according to Larry Handlin, the blogger who broke the story. Handlin told TPMMuckraker that the source of the audio clip told him that Kirk didn’t mention specific organizations during the phone call.
Since the audio emerged, Republicans have stopped talking.
There’s no direct evidence that the RNLA was coordinating its work with the Kirk campaign. RNLA Illinois Chapter Leader Christine Svenson said she was busy last night, and did not return a message left today.
“Please note RNLA does not perform ANY operations,” Micheal Thielen, Executive Director of the RNLA, told TPMMuckraker in an e-mail. “We merely train lawyers on how to ensure elections are open, fair and honest. Our training program in Illinois has been approved by the Illinois state bar for Illinois Mandatory Continuing Legal Education credit.” A statement on the RNLA’s 2010 efforts noted they had trained over 1,000 lawyers this year alone.
Voter fraud issues — along with the fallout over the controversy of the Justice Department’s handling of the civil voter intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party — have been the RNLA’s bread and butter. The group sends out Vote Fraud Alerts, a member of the organization recently wrote about America’s “voter fraud epidemic,” and the organization has taken a critical view of the community organizing group ACORN, a now-defunct organization that was a piÃ±ata for voter fraud issues.
Illinois Republicans were also not willing to discuss the program. “The Illinois Republican Party does not publicly discuss its policies or strategies, but has always shared the goal of an honest and fair election for all Illinois voters and candidates,” Wes Bleed said in an e-mail to TPMMuckraker. He declined further comment, and numerous GOP officials and Republican lawyers in Illinois didn’t return our messages. The Kirk campaign did not return multiple phone calls.
Meanwhile, former DOJ official and campaign lawyer J. Gerald Hebert told TPMMuckraker he has made the Justice Department aware of the issue as well as his concerns about “vote suppression schemes masquerading as ballot integrity programs.”
Kirk’s Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, described Kirk’s scheme as “Karl Rove politics.”
Last week wasn’t Mark Kirk’s first ride on the anti-voter fraud rodeo. He previously claimed there were “massive voter fraud efforts” underway when he was running for Congress and wrote an editorial calling for the Census to cut ties with the SEIU after it cut ties with the community organizing group ACORN.
While the Kirk campaign didn’t get back to TPMMuckraker, a spokeswoman had denied that there was a racial component to the voter integrity initiative.
“Congressman Kirk supports statewide efforts to combat machine politics and vote fraud that is well-known in Illinois,” Kukowski said in an e-mailed statement to one media outlet. “Voter fraud dilutes votes and disenfranchises citizens.”
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