MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now another story from the campaign trail. Senator Obama has been under fire for some of his close ties to a controversial community base group. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, has been around since the early 1970s. Among other activities the group conducts voter registration drives in low-income neighborhoods around the country. But in recent years the organization has also been plagued by accusations that it is fraudulently signing up ineligible voters. Last week, the FBI joined nearly a dozen states to investigate whether ACORN submitted false voter registration forms. We're going to hear from ACORN representative in just a moment, but first we're going to turn to David Hansen. He's the president of the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank in Columbus, Ohio. And his organization recently filed suit against ACORN. Mr. Hansen, thanks for joining us.
Mr. DAVID HANSEN (President, Buckeye Institute): Hi, Michel. Thanks for having me today.
MARTIN: Now, just to clarify. It's my understandings that you declined to be in the same conversation with the representative from ACORN. We're hearing from them later. Your organization is suing ACORN alleging ongoing corruption and criminal activity. First of all, I didn't understand - I didn't know that private parties could sue under anti-racketeering law. But, what's the basis of your complaint?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, actually we're not suing. We're assisting two plaintiffs, two women in Warren County, Ohio who are concerned. The constitutional provisions that give us the right to vote also protect us - protect and give us the right to a full vote undiminished by voter fraud. And at some point the well-documented mass of improper and improperly obtained registrations that are carried out by ACORN rises above the no harm, no foul level that is usually claimed and really becomes injurious to parties and Ohio's statutes give private citizens the recourse to seek - the method to seek recourse for these injuries. And that's the particulars lawsuit that the plaintiffs are filing is under Ohio's so-called RICO or Corrupt Activities Act.
MARTIN: Is there any evidence that people who signed these registrations are actually trying to vote?
Mr. HANSEN: There is - records of fraudulent voting in Ohio going back at least until 1976. There was an indictment and conviction last year in Franklin County. I happened to be a Franklin County voter and somebody voted twice and you have to sit there and as our plaintiffs do, and then wonder if their vote is actually going to be cast legitimate - well if their vote is cast. Is there going to be somebody who's going to be voting - casting a vote that will be canceling theirs out, but who will be fraudulently registered and fraudulently voting?
MARTIN: Is it your view that ACORN is actually trying to influence the election? And if so on what basis do you think that?
Mr. HANSEN: No. We don't - we're not a partisan organization. ACORN I think confuses us with that. We are about the individual right to vote and have that right to vote be enjoyed in its full and not diminished by fraudulent voting, among other activities that we do in terms of limited government. So, this is - this political side is not important to us. What's important to us is that people should be able to cast their votes free from fear of fraudulent voting and there's clearly the registration process and ACORN has admitted that here in Cayuga County in Ohio that they are carrying out fraudulent activities when it comes to registration.
MARTIN: But the question I think...
Mr. HANSEN: And fraudulent registration is the premeditation to fraudulent voting.
MARTIN: Well, except that the argument by ACORN, as I understand it, is that they are the defrauded party, that they've asked people to carry out these tasks on their behalf and having failed to do so properly so that they are the defrauded party.
Mr. HANSEN: Well, that's where the particular Ohio statute says is that this behavior of trying to avoid responsibility, this pattern of behavior of not playing by the rules - it eventually catches up with the organization that shows no particular effort and keeps saying it's no harm, no foul or we're really not to be held accountable for this activity when it's clearly part of a scheme that they have to try to overwhelm the election registration process with registrations that are fraudulent, that are highly duplicative, I mean, 72...
MARTIN: See, that's what I'm trying to understand, why is it clear?
Mr. HANSEN: Seventy two registrations by one person up in Cayuga County.
MARTIN: Well, but that's what I'm asking is what makes it clear. You're saying it's clearly a scheme. A schemes involves, as you put it, a conspiracy, involves premeditation and an intent to violate the law.
Mr. HANSEN: Well we have 40 instances laid out in the lawsuit that was filed by our plaintiffs and eventually there's 40 points and when there's 40 dots -it only takes three points to define a plane, 40 points defines a scheme. And that's what the courts of Ohio can, you know, look at, at least in terms of our lawsuit that we're helping the plaintiffs with.
MARTIN: What more do you think ACORN should have done to be sure that the rules are solid?
Mr. HANSEN: Well we - you know, what we want is ACORN to play by the rules. I mean, we're representing people who've played by the rules when it comes to registration and when it comes to voting. We want ACORN to play by those rules as well. We want them to, you know, improve the responsibility that they should be taking for the behavior of the people who work for them and we want them to stop offering cigarettes and bribes for people who - just to get them to register. We want them to play by the rules, Michel. That's what this is all about.
Mr. HANSEN: Because the rules, the rules are in place to protect everybody. They should give plenty and ample opportunity for people to get registered and having private parties go out and register people is perfectly OK and there's no problem with that, but when those registrations are obtained fraudulently then that becomes a problem.
MARTIN: And finally, ACORN's registration drives, as I think we've said, are aimed at poor neighborhoods, minority neighborhoods, people who I think - many people assume vote Democratic given that the most vociferous complaints are from people identified with the Republican party, why couldn't reasonable people assume that the real issue here is that you don't want people voting who you don't - don't agree with your politics?
Mr. HANSEN: People can look at that but should also look at our particular record. I mean, we criticize Republicans and Democrats. I guess for us, you know, as an organization that's focused on the principle of individual liberties and one of those prime individual liberties is the right to vote undiluted by fraudulent vote, whereas ACORN is a political organization. And they see politics as a path to power, as a path to money and we see politics and politicians as really part of the problem and you can look and see us being pretty disdainful of a lot of the sort of going back and forth between the parties. That's not our issue particularly, our issue is - and this is what people should think about is - that we want ACORN to play by the rules because the rules are meant to protect our plaintiffs and others who want - who have the right to vote and have that vote undiminished by fraudulent voting.
MARTIN: David Hansen is the president of the Buckeye Institute, a Conservative think tank based in Columbus, Ohio. He joined us from member station WOSU. Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. HANSEN: Thanks, Michel.
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