By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff
John McCain's presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee have added a new alleged villain to the effort to raise doubts about Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the closing weeks of the race -- a community organizing group accused of generating a flurry of phony voter registration cards in a number of states.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which says it has signed up about 1.3 million voters in 18 states this year, has come under fire for irregularities in at least eight states, including Nevada where voter cards for the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys were turned in to local election officials.
ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring said that in most cases the bogus registrations were flagged by ACORN supervisors during a review, brought to the attention of the local officials when they were submitted, and ACORN fired "probably a couple of dozen" employees who fabricated them. Under most state laws, the organization must submit every card an employee collects, he said.
The Republican National Committee has held five separate conference calls for reporters on the subject this week after a string of news reports in different states, and McCain's campaign has also been trumpeting links between the organization and Obama dating back 13 years.
In 1995, as a lawyer in private practice, Obama and two other lawyers from his firm represented ACORN in a successful suit that forced the state of Illinois to comply with a federal law that made it easier to register to vote. The group's political arm endorsed Obama in February and an ACORN-affiliated group was paid about $800,000 for get-out-the-vote operations in four states during the primaries. The Obama campaign flatly denies claims the Republicans that Obama once trained ACORN employees.
Still, McCain raised the issue of voter registration fraud at a rally today in Wisconsin: "You've seen the allegations, the multiple registrations under the same name, the more registered voters than the population. These are serious allegations, my friends, and they must be investigated, and they must be investigated immediately and they must be stopped before November the fourth, so Americans will not -- will not -- be deprived of a fair process in this election."
McCain spokesman Ben Porritt later added ACORN to the list of other Chicago figures with links to Obama. "Whether voters consider Barack Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, Tony Rezko, or ACORN, he has a litany of concerning associations that should be fully examined,” he said, referring to a 1960s domestic terrorist and a former Obama fundraiser convicted earlier this year of fraud and bribery.
And the RNC launched a web ad that cites Ayers and Rezko and says, "The Chicago Way. Shady politics. That’s Barack Obama’s training.”
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt responded: "McCain advisers said this week that he would lose the campaign if they talked about the economy, and so to cover up Senator McCain's erratic response to the biggest economic crisis facing our nation since the Great Depression, they are concocting outlandish conspiracy theories and looking for any attempt to distract from the serious challenges facing our nation that we will continue to address."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.