Fraud Merchants

Ward Connerly

Ward Connerly, a long time California lobbyist and right-wing race activist, started out with ambitious plans to target 11 states with his misleadingly named "civil rights" initiative. The effort is in reality an attempt to roll back and ban equal opportunity programs that have helped ensure everyone gets a fair shake by re-writing state constitutions. Connerly started the year with a downsized plan that targeted five states- Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Connerly's effort has been marked by deception and fraud. He has spent over $3 million in the five states, but he was able to get his initiative certified for the ballot in only two states- Colorado and Nebraska.

Relying on out-of-state money and a paid signature gathering firm with a shady past (Georgia based, National Ballot Access) to collect petitions for his initiative, Connerly failed to make the ballot in Arizona, Missouri and Oklahoma. 

In Oklahoma, Connerly and National Ballot Access failed to receive enough citizen support to get his divisive initiative on the ballot. When Connerly turned in his signatures, the Oklahoma Secretary of State referred a report on Connerly's petitions to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court citing numerous problems with the signatures including; circulators who signed the petition multiple times, numerous duplicates, and ninety-two people who gave different versions of the same address. 

In an unprecedented move, Connerly requested to have his initiative withdrawn in an acknowledgement that fraud and irregularities plagued the petitions he submitted to the state.

In Missouri, Connerly faced charges of using deceptive tactics and desperately recruited people from out-of-state to help him gather signatures, including a racist group from California. It has also been reported that one of Connerly's paid signature gathers was picked up by police because he was wanted in three states for voter fraud related charges. 

At the end of the day, the so-called "Civil Rights Initiative" failed to gain enough valid signatures to make the ballot in Missouri.

In Arizona Connerly turned in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot but he faced yet more charges of fraud and deception by local groups of citizens organized to oppose the measure.

Connerly spent nearly $1 million in out-of-state funding to re-write the Arizona constitution. He faced charges by a local coalition of opponents to the measure, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, that those hired to gather signatures have misled voters by not informing them that the initiative would eliminate equal opportunity programs.

Connerly refused to list the names of his paid circulators on his Web site and he has failed to conduct criminal background checks on them to prevent those convicted of identity theft, sexual assault or other crimes from gaining the personal information of Arizona voters.

Despite the charges of voter fraud, Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, recently reversed himself on his past support for affirmative action and in a flip-flop came out in support of Connerly's Arizona initiative. McCain had previously called the civil-rights roll back "divisive" when he opposed a 1998 state legislative attempt to forward to the ballot the same ban on affirmative action programs. (McCain Disagrees, The Washington Times February 26, 1998)

While McCain says he is supporting Connerly's initiative because he opposes "quotas," neither the 1998 initiative that he opposed nor the 2008 initiative that he now supports address quotas. In fact, "quotas" are already illegal under federal law and have been ruled unconstitutional for years.

Some of the equal opportunity programs that McCain now supports eliminating through Connerly's initiative include:

  • Governor's Commission to Prevent Violence against Women. This program focuses on protecting women.
  • City of Phoenix Teen Parents Program. This program helps teen mothers learn skills so they can get off welfare and provide for their children.
  • Arizona State University Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. This program supports university women as they pursue careers in science and engineering.

In addition, the initiative would have banned an Arizona State University's Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, in which nearly every East Valley Arizona school district participates. The program recruits seventh-grade Hispanic girls who don't have college graduates in their families. The girls and their mothers participate once a month in a class at ASU where they learn study skills, test preparation and how to write personal statements and apply for financial aid. In the 2006-07 school year, nearly 200 girls from East Valley schools participated.

In the end, Connerly had over 130,000 signatures thrown out by the Secretary of State. The widespread irregularities found by state and local officials in the signatures Connerly turned in forced his initiative to be stripped from the ballot.

On top of the signatures that were thrown out, an additional 100,000 fraudulent or suspicious signatures turned in by Connerly to Arizona's secretary of state are the subject of a lawsuit.

In Colorado, the New York Times detailed the deception being used by Connerly to collect signatures. Connerly's paid staff targeted people at Obama rallies and a Martin Luther King Day parade, telling them that his initiative would "end discrimination" when in fact it will end affirmative action programs that have evened the playing field and offered a ladder up for qualified women and minorities to compete.

Connerly is now facing a legal challenge in Colorado where half the signatures he turned in (70,000) are the subject of a lawsuit. Over 56,000 signatures failed to match any registered voter, even using the broadest screen possible to combat any data entry errors.  Colorado law requires circulators to be Colorado residents, and swear that they reside at the address given on the petition form; however numerous circulators used old, invalid, or even false addresses, bringing into question nearly 7,000 signatures. Connerly even admitted to the Associated Press that "about half" of his signature gatherers were from out of state.

2008 was the first time supporters of equal opportunity introduced their own measure to counter Connerly's initiative. Although the Colorado Equal Opportunity Initiative will not be on the ballot, the initiative affirmed the fact that quotas have already been ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court, and maintained that other equal opportunity initiatives, such as apprenticeship or summer job programs, should be permitted to continue in Colorado as allowed by the Supreme Court.

In Nebraska, Connerly has faced charges that petition collectors collected signatures illegally- filling out information for people signing petitions, misleading voters by not reading a required statement, and leaving signature sheets unattended.

On June 6, the Omaha World-Herald wrote in an editorial titled, ‘Kill This Petition', "Certainly the notion of eliminating ‘all gender and race discrimination in Nebraska' is quite desirable. But that is not what this effort is about."

The editorial exposed the deceptive tactics Connerly and his paid-petition gathers have been using across the country and concluded, "Don't buy this garbage. Don't sign the petition."

Connerly's efforts in Nebraska grew so desperate that he resorted to running a "remarkably ugly" radio ad referring to the rhetoric of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and attacking the only African-African legislator in Nebraska. As the Omaha-World Herald wrote, "How ironic that the ad, which calls for Nebraskans to "reject the politics of race and hate," itself shamelessly stokes racial resentment."

Connerly's signature gathering firm, National Ballot Access, has a long history of allegedly engaging in initiative fraud in Nebraska.

In 1996, the head of National Ballot Access, Edie Baggett notarized 35,000 signatures that were later called into question for a Nebraska gambling initiative headed up by Let the People Vote Committee. Casino foes alleged that Baggett had never become a Nebraska resident and therefore couldn't notarize the petitions legally.  In addition, it was claimed that Baggett's notary stamp was used illegally by several other people to notarize petitions. Officials with Let the People Vote have denied that, saying that Ms. Baggett signed her name several different ways. ("Casino Opponents Question Signatures" Omaha World-Herald. October 17, 2006.)

And in 2006, Baggett was hired to circulate the Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative (TABOR).  During TABOR's circulation, the Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale was actually approached by a circulator seeking his signature while walking in downtown Omaha.  When pressed, the circulator admitted he was only 15 years old.  Gale also stated that he witnessed circulators failing to read the object statement to potential signers, a legal requirement which ensures that voters know what they're signing.  ("Rush for names leads to petition circulators' shortcuts." (Omaha World-Herald, June 26, 2006.)

This year, it was also recently revealed that Connerly's Nebraska campaign received $50,000 to fund National Ballot Access from Paul Singer, a New York "vulture fund" banker.

Singer's company, Elliott Associates, has been accused of being a "renowned vulture investor" for buying up the defaulted bonds of financially distressed countries in Latin America and Africa on the cheap, then forcing them to repay the bonds in full, notwithstanding the fact that agreement had been reached between most of the creditors and the debtor countries to resolve the defaults by agreeing to discounted terms.

Singer's foundation, the Wilmington, Delaware-based Paul Singer Family Foundation, contributed $250,000 to Connerly's American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) from 2001-2004, according to its Federal tax reports.

Singer's family foundation also gave $500,000 between 1999 and 2004 to the Washington, DC-based Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which brought the landmark 2003 Gratz and Grutter Supreme Court cases attempting to overturn affirmative action at the University of Michigan.

While Connerly's initiative will be on the ballot in Nebraska, he has encountered the same charges of "illegal petitioning" that he has faced in every other state this year.

In Nebraska, Connerly's California based American Civil Rights Coalition has ignored the written opinion of Nebraska's campaign finance commission and refuses to divulge the names of its biggest donors. Connerly's group did reveal its donors once, in 2005, as part of a legal settlement with the State of California.

The list included $300,000 from media giant Rupert Murdoch, $350,000 in donations and loans from now-deceased beer magnate Joseph Coors and $400,000 from John Moores, chairman of the San Diego Padres baseball team. The State of California fined Connerly's group $95,000 for violating state campaign finance law.

While Connerly cynically pushes his "civil rights" initiatives with rhetoric about working towards a "colorblind society" he has personally raked in millions of dollars as the right-wing's face of the effort to roll back equal opportunity programs. 

Using his two tax exempt, charitable, non-profit organizations as a personal ATM, Connerly has lined his own pockets with over $7.6 million in profits from 1997 to mid-2006.

This includes over $500,000 in salary from 2004 to mid-2006 and $2.2 million in payments that Connerly paid himself just for "speaking fees and interviews." This $7.6 million figure doesn't include the money Connerly has paid himself since June 30, 2006.

As if that weren't enough to expose Connerly's real motivations, it was Connerly who used his own race to land no-bid contracts with the California Energy Commission and profit off of affirmative action programs he now wants to eliminate.  While Connerly has said, "I don't wear my race on my sleeve. I don't try to benefit from it. I have never, ever in my life tried to take advantage of my race to get a benefit," the facts tell a far different story. From 1989 to 1994, Connerly received over $1 million in payments from the state commission under its special race program by certifying that his company was a minority owned business. ("Affirmative Action Critic Used His Minority Status: UC Regent Got No-Bid State Contracts," San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1995.

You can tell a lot about Connerly by the company he keeps. Connerly has welcomed the support of racist, white supremacist leaders and groups.

His efforts have the support of the controversial group United for a Sovereign America, whose members are affiliated with neo-Nazi groups. In 2006, Connerly said "God bless" the KKK for their support of his divisive initiative in Michigan.

David Duke has even highlighted Connerly's efforts and success on his website.

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