Michael Gaynor
Is Project Vote really nonpartisan?
By Michael Gaynor
January 19, 2011

It's a small, interconnected stealth socialist world.

ACORN founder and Chief Organizer for 38 years Wade Rathke(http://chieforganizer.org/biography/): "The ACORN family of organizations includes radio stations (KNON and KABF), publications, housing development and ownership (ACORN Housing), and a variety of other supports for direct organizing and issue campaigns, such as Project Vote and the Living Wage Resource Center."

ACORN filed for liquidation in bankruptcy on Election Day 2010, but it has morphed, not disappeared, and its Project Vote (www.projectvote.org) remains hard at work (and headquartered at the same Washington, D.C. building that served as an ACORN national office).

ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief blew the whistle on Project Vote partisanship in October 2008. See, for example, www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_595810.html:

"A former staffer for an affiliate of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now testified today that the organization was provided a "donor list" from the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in late 2007 for fundraising efforts.

"Anita Moncrief, a former Washington, D.C. staffer for Project Vote, which she described as a sister organization of ACORN, said her supervisor told her the list of campaign contributors came from the Obama campaign. Moncrief said she has a copy of a 'development plan' that outlines how Obama contributors who had 'maxed out' under federal contribution limits would be targeted to give to Project Vote, and that it was her job to identify such contributors."

But Project Vote describes itself in its mission statement (www.projectvote.org/our-mission.html) as "a national nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented voters."

Is Project Vote really nonpartisan?

The answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question as to whether Project Vote board member Frances Fox Piven is nonpartisan.

Project Vote glowingly describes Piven as follows (www.projectvote.org/our-board.html):

"Frances Fox Piven is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate School and University Center, CUNY. Professor Piven's work reflects a preoccupation with the uses of political science to promote democratic reform. Piven is a scholar-citizen, equally at home in the university and in the world of politics. Her Regulating the Poor, co-authored with Richard Cloward, is a landmark historical and theoretical analysis of the role of welfare policy in the economic and political control of the poor and working class. First published in 1972 and updated in 1993, it is widely acknowledged as a social science classic. She also co-authored Poor Peoples' Movements (1977) which analyzes the political dynamics through which insurgent social movements sometimes compel significant policy reforms. Piven and Cloward's The New Class War (1982, updated 1985), The Mean Season (1987), and The Breaking of the American Social Compact (1997) traced the historical and political underpinnings of the contemporary attack on social and regulatory policy. In Why Americans Don't Vote (1988; updated as Why Americans Still Don't Vote in 2000) they analyzed the role of electoral laws and practices in disenfranchising large numbers of working class and poor citizens, and the impact of disenfranchisement on party development. And in 1992, Piven edited Labor Parties in Postindustrial Societies. More recently, in The War at Home, Piven examines the domestic causes and consequences of the foreign wars launched by the Bush administration. Since then, Piven has authored Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, and, with Lorraine Minnite and Margaret Groarke, Keeping Down the Black Vote."

A prolific writer, Pivin is. Nonpartisan, she's not.

Project Vote's carefully crafted description of Pivin is noteworthy for what it omits.

Piven is known "for her social activism....she has served on the boards of the ACLU and the Democratic Socialists of America....In the 1960s, Piven worked with welfare-rights groups to expand benefits; in the eighties and nineties she campaigned relentlessly against welfare cutbacks. A veteran of the war on poverty and subsequent welfare-rights protests both in New York City and on the national stage, she has been instrumental in formulating the theoretical underpinnings of those movements. In Regulating the Poor, Piven and Cloward argued that any advances the poor have made throughout history were directly proportional to their ability to disrupt institutions that depend upon their cooperation. This academic commentary proved useful to George Wiley and the NWRO as well as a great many other community organizers and urban theorists. Since 1994, Piven has led academic and activist opposition to the 'Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996'...." (http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss52_bioghist.html)

It's a small, interconnected stealth socialist world. Pivin also is an editorial advisory group member of Social Policy, of which ACORN founder and chief organizer for 38 years Wade Rathke is publisher.

Social Policy describes itself as "[f]or over 30 years...key site for intellectual exchange among progressive academics and activists from across the United States and beyond, including: Frances Fox Piven...."

It is undisputed that as an attorney now President Obama represented ACORN in a successful lawsuit against the state of Illinois to force state compliance with the federal voting access law known as the motor voter law. (http://fightthesmears.com/articles/20/acornrumor.html)

Piven was a key promoter of that law. "...Piven's study of voter registration and participation patterns found fruition in the 1983 founding of the HumanSERVE (Human Service Employees Registration and Voter Education) Campaign. The Campaign's registration reform effort culminated in the 1994 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, or the 'Motor-Voter' bill, designed to increase voter registration, especially among low-income groups." (http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss52_bioghist.html

)Descriptions of other board members at the Project Vote website are illuminating.

Frank Askin is a Rutgers Law School professor and one of four ACLU general counsel since 1976.

Rene Brereton: "Currently the Lead Organizer for the Gamaliel Foundation's Prince George County affiliate in Maryland, Ms. Brereton is engaged in building a power based organization in a predominately African American county addressing economic/social issues including public safety, housing foreclosures, and inferior schools. Previously she coordinated the national health care campaign for the Gamaliel Foundation. Ms. Brereton's more than twenty-five years' experience in the nonprofit world include over 19 years at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, where she was the grants coordinator at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' domestic anti-poverty program, and provided leadership around a number of public policy issues...."

Note: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development finally stopped funding ACORN.

Craig Kaplan has been counsel to Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, P.C. since 2006.

Likewise staff descriptions tell us plenty.

"Michael Slater, Executive Director

"Michael Slater came to Project Vote in 2004 with more than a decade's experience in community, labor and faith-based organizing. As Deputy Director, Mr. Slater helped build Project Vote's Election Administration program.... Mr. Slater was promoted to Executive Director in 2008, and in the months leading up to the historic 2008 election supervised one of the largest and most successful voter registration efforts in the nation's history. In the past two years Mr. Slater has overseen the dramatic growth of Project Vote's Election Administration, Litigation, and Research programs, transforming the organization into one of the nation's leading voting rights and advocacy organizations. Under his guidance, the Public Agency Voter Registration Project has taken a nationwide leadership role in enforcing the National Voter Registration Act....'

"Nicole Kovite, Director, Public Agency Registration Project"

"Nicole Kovite returned to Project Vote in 2008 as Election Counsel and Director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Program...."

"Previously, Ms. Kovite worked for Project Vote in 2004 as the Washington state Election Administration project manager, where she succeeded in helping to reverse an illegal citizenship checkbox requirement to registration, resulting in roughly 2,500 more registered voters in the historically tight election. Ms. Kovite is an attorney licensed in Washington state.... Prior to her work as an attorney, Ms. Kovite was staff for the Unemployment Law Project in Seattle, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925 in Seattle, and the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC...."

"Estelle H. Rogers, Director of Advocacy

"Estelle Rogers, an attorney, has been Project Vote's Director of Advocacy since January 2010.... Prior to joining the Project Vote staff, Ms. Rogers spent several years as a part-time consultant to the organization. Her work included...preparing a voting rights agenda for submission to the Presidential Transition Team in 2008-2009.... She also serves on the board of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, an organization providing legal services to immigrant detainees in the Washington, DC area."

"Lorraine C. Minnite, Director of Research

"Lorraine C. Minnite joined Project Vote as Director of Research in January 2010, after serving a term on the board of directors and authoring the 2007 Project Vote report The Politics of Voter Fraud. For nearly ten years Dr. Minnite taught American and urban politics at Barnard College, and prior to that she was the Associate Director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.... An experienced researcher concerned with issues of inequality, social and racial justice, political conflict, and institutional change, Dr. Minnite has published on various aspects of political participation, immigration, voting behavior and urban politics. She is the author of The Myth of Voter Fraud, published by Cornell University Press (2010), and, with Frances Fox Piven and Margaret Groarke, a co-author of Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters, published by The New Press in 2009...."

"Brian Mellor, Senior Counsel

"Brian Mellor is Project Vote's Senior Counsel and manages Project Vote's litigation staff. He has worked with Project Vote since 2005 litigating cases, administering voter participation programs, and providing corporate advice and services. Mr. Mellor helped develop and implement Project Vote's voter registration drives in 2005, 2006, and 2007-2008. In that role, he wrote the quality control manual, oversaw the national quality control program, and prepared material used to defend the efforts from reprehensible attacks by partisan organizations and the media.... Prior to working with Project Vote, Mr. Mellor...worked with a labor union and housing advocacy organization, and worked as a community organizer in a number of communities across the country...."

"Steven Rosenfeld, Consultant

"Steve Rosenfeld began working with Project Vote in 2010.... In addition to Project Vote, Mr. Rosenfeld has served as a consultant to several advocacy groups and foundations; he was the author of Project Vote's 2010 case study, Paperless Registration: Innovations in Three States, and recently worked with the Pew Center's Election Initiative on their forthcoming voter registration modernization plan. Mr. Rosenfeld covered the 2008 election as a Senior Fellow with AlterNet.org, worked as press secretary for several political campaigns, and has served as a writer, producer, and reporter with several publications and media outlets including NPR and Air America Radio...."

Sure, Project Vote is nonpartisan, like NPR, Air America, ACLU, SEIU and the Obama campaign!

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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