Hans Von Spakovsky: Right choice for FEC Commissioner?
by Adam Lambert with ePluribus Media researchers
11 June 2007

Part 1 of this series covered von Spakovsky's background in the Georgia Voter ID laws and Texas Redistricting. Part 2 looked at his involvement in the U.S. Attorney purges and his advocacy of Voter Roll purges. Part 3 reviews von Spakovsky's recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission.

Hans A. von Spakovsky has been nominated for a full term on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), having already received a recess appointment from President Bush in early 2006, despite his long history of positions and [actions] which have served to limit the rights of voters, especially minorities.

Hans A. von Spakovsky's "credentials" include efforts in Georgia which curtailed minority voting rights and made it tougher for many likely Democratic voters to be eligible to vote; a stint in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division; membership in the conservative Federalist Society; and service on the national advisory board of the "Voting Integrity Project" (VIP), whose efforts Jeffrey Toobin in a 2004 The New Yorker suggests served more to keep people from voting than it did to ensure that all votes were counted.

Georgia On My Mind

Von Spakovsky cut his teeth in Georgia during the 1990s, prior to his activity on the national level. According to the White House announcement of his interim appointment to the FEC in December 2005:

Mr. von Spakovsky currently serves as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. He previously served the Justice Department as a trial attorney for the Voting Reform Initiative. Prior to that, Mr. von Spakovsky served as a government affairs consultant. Earlier in his career, he was Assistant Vice President, Counsel and Secretary for Confederation Life Insurance Company in Rehabilitation. Mr. von Spakovsky received his bachelor's degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his JD from Vanderbilt University.

Notably, his work experience in Georgia is not included in the White House announcement; however, it is this Georgia experience that casts doubts on his ability to function independently and raises serious questions about potential politicization if he were confirmed to serve on the FEC, the federal government agency in charge of administering the nation's campaign finance laws, an agency that will be given much greater power if Congressman Rush Holt's (D-NJ) voting reform bill passes. Remarkably, his "assistance" to then-candidate Bush in Florida's 2000 election recount is nowhere to be seen in this White House announcement (or in his bio on the FEC website).

Early Public "Service" in Georgia

As far back as 1997, he was heavily involved in developing and implementing ideas that ultimately served as blueprints for the Florida "felon" voter roll purge, strict voter ID laws in a number of states, the mid-CENSUS redistricting in Texas during 2003 and other acts which ran counter to the idea of "every vote counts" .

During 1997, von Spakovsky wrote an article for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research group, which advocated an aggressive purging of the voter rolls. According to Toobin's 2004 article in Tthe New Yorker linked above:

He belonged to the Federalist Society, a prominent organization of conservative lawyers, and had also joined the board of advisers of a lesser-known group called the Voting Integrity Project.

The V.I.P. was founded by Deborah Phillips, a former county official of the Virginia Republican Party, as an organization devoted principally to fighting voting fraud and promoting voter education. In 1997, von Spakovsky wrote an article for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research group, that called for an aggressive campaign to "purge" the election rolls of felons. Within months of that article's publication, the V.I.P. helped put von Spakovsky's idea into action. Phillips met with the company that designed the process for the removal of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida, a process that led, notoriously, to the mistaken disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, most of them Democratic, before the 2000 election. (This year, Florida again tried to purge its voting rolls of felons, but the method was found to be so riddled with errors that it had to be abandoned.)

According to Thomas B. Edsall and Dan Eggen September 2005 Washington Post article, the Georgia voter ID law originally envisioned by von Spakovsky was extremely controversial, Justice Department career staff recommended that officials should not be allowed to implement it. And in fact, when von Spakovsky was in the Justice Department, the controversy reached a turning point:

Career Justice Department lawyers involved in a Georgia case said von Spakovsky pushed strongly for approval of a state program requiring voters to have photo identification. A team of staff lawyers that examined the case recommended 4 to 1 that the Georgia plan should be rejected because it would harm black voters; the recommendation was overruled by von Spakovsky and other senior officials in the Civil Rights Division.

According to Walter C. Jones's 2000 article in the Jackson Florida Times-Union, while with the Voting Integrity Project in 2000, von Spakovsky favored efforts to keep candidates of the Green Party off of the Georgia Ballot:

Restrictive ballot access explains why nearly 80 percent of the state is represented by a legislator who doesn't have an opponent Tuesday, Forren said. The situation suits major-party incumbents, he said.

"They don't want anyone else mucking up their power or they don't want anyone mucking up their balance of power," he said.

"More people might show up to vote if they had so many choices that one was likely to represent their unique views, "Forren said.

"But having more politicians from different parties could actually frustrate voters more and depress turnout," cautions Hans A. von Spakovsky, executive director of the Voter Integrity Project.

"People already have frustration at the difficulty at getting government action," he said. "If our party system were fractured into more and smaller parties. It would be much tougher to get anything done."

In 2001, von Spakovsky was appointed to the Fulton County Registration and Election Board, which runs elections in Atlanta.

In mid-2001, an OpEd in the Atlanta Journal Constitution entitled ELECTION ILLS: Tallying only 'real' votes the best idea noted that von Spakovsky lobbied Senators Christopher Dodd and Max Cleland for stricter voting rules, railing against the motor voter law and indicating the voter registration rolls were in dire need of being "fixed" . Von Spakovsky noted that:

"One of the biggest threats to voter rights and election integrity today is the condition of our voter registration rolls," von Spakovsky told Dodd. "Many jurisdictions now have more registered names on their voter rolls than they have voting-age population within their borders."

"When combined with absentee voting, an individual can register and cast an absentee ballot without any election official ever seeing him"

.

According to a June 2007 McClatchy article by Greg Gordon, while at the Department of Justice, von Spakovsky implemented these views, refusing, along with then-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Alex Acosta to take action when advocacy groups presented him with "evidence that hundreds of public-assistance agencies had illegally failed to offer voter registration to their mostly poor and minority clients."

Part I: Hans Van Spakovsky: Right choice for FEC Commissioner? Looks into his early career and connections to the Georgia Republican Party and local voter suppression initiatives.

Part II: Hans in the Sock Puppet... Analyzes von Spakovsky's tenure at the Department of Justice's Voting Rights Section as well as his involvement with high profile cases such as the mid-CENSUS Texas redistricting, legally tenuous Voter ID laws, as well as numerous lawsuits that served to disenfranchise and suppress minority voters.

Part III: Permanent Recess Appointment... Tracks his short but controversial term as FEC Commissioner.

Discuss this feature...

About the Author: Adam Lambert is a tax consultant living and working in the New York City area. Blogging under the name "clammyc", he has researched and written extensively on issues involving Iraq, the Bush administration and the "war on terror," the US attorney purge and election fraud issues.

ePluribus Contributors: Publius Revolts, Standingup, cho, AvaHome, GreyHawk, wanderindiana, Roxy and jenn718 contributed to this story.

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