The Dots Connect Between Abramoff, Ohio 2004 Election Smokescreen and Ney's Former Staffer Revealed to be on Diebold's Payroll While Working for White House Law Firm
All the While as HAVA --- America's 'Election Reform' Bill --- is Used for Political Payoff in the Bargain...
By Brad Friedman on 1/10/2006, 11:21am PT  

There's been a great deal of speculation over the last several days, particularly in the light of Jack Abramoff's recent guilty pleas, concerning the connection of Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) to Election Fraud in Ohio, vis a vis his stewardship and authoring of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) back in 2001 and 2002. The heavy-handed tactics he has taken since, in order to keep the flawed act from being changed in any way over the years, along with going to great lengths to keep the nation's eyes off of massive electile dysfunction in Ohio and elsewhere since 2004, may finally get the attention it all properly deserves.

Both Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon have directly informed prosecutors of Ney's alleged wrong-doing in regard to money and gifts given to Ney, in apparent exchange for support on various legislation and even personal business deals. Ney, who chairs the important U.S. House Administration Committee, has been fingered, and now subpoenaed, for accepting illegal trips, gratuities and other apparent quid pro quo deals with Abramoff's former firms, partners, friends and groups who had paid both him and Scanlon as lobbyists.

His direct connection to the HAVA Election Reform bill passed in the wake of the 2000 Florida Election Debacle, and his various extraordinary efforts to specifically block amendments to the bill and to smokescreen attempted investigations into his home state's conduct during the 2004 Election Debacle, has been less widely reported. Until now.

While Common Cause quietly reported in December of 2004 that Diebold --- the much-beleagured-of-late American Voting Machine company --- paid as much as $275,000 to Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig for lobbying work, The BRAD BLOG has now found additional details that begin to shed new light on Ney's personal connections to Diebold lobbyists.

Such personal connections include those with Ney's former chief of staff turned lobbyist, David DiStefano, who has been working on behalf of Diebold, Inc. and at least one other Voting Machine Company as a registered lobbyist in the House going back to at least 2001. One of DiStefano's online bios crows about his having "an insider's edge to hard-to-reach political officials." That "insider's edge" has proven to have been a very worthwhile investment for the Voting Machine Companies who'd purchased access into Ney's political office.

Congressional lobbying records reveal that Diebold, Inc. has paid at least $180,000 to DiStefano and eventually his partner, Roy C. Coffee, to lobby for the "Help America Vote Act" and other "Election Reform Issues" in Congress since 2003. Another Electronic Voting Machine Company, AccuPoll, Inc., also paid DiStefano some $70,000 to lobby for HAVA on their behalf in 2002, although that relationship was apparently terminated once the legislation was passed by Congress.

In turn, Ney's former employee DiStefano and Coffee themselves have given nearly $20,000 to Bob Ney's campaigns dating back to 2002.

The connections of DiStefano and Coffee don't stop at Congress, however. Both lobbyists now work out of the new Washington office of the Texas-based law firm of Lock, Liddell & Sapp LLP --- the firm of George W. Bush's White House Counsel Harriet Miers. And Coffee, himself, had previously worked as a senior aide to then-Governor Bush back in Texas.

In addition to lobbying in favor of Electronic Voting, DiStefano and Coffee were also paid thousands to lobby Ney on behalf of an obscure firm by the name of FN Aviation, which later became known as FAZ Aviation. FN/FAZ Aviation, the Columbus Dispatch reported last December, paid for Ney's 2003 trip to England. On that trip, Ney met at a casino with FN Aviation's director, Nigel Winfield, a three-time convicted felon, and Fouad al-Zayat, the Syrian-born head of FN Aviation. Zayat, as reported by NBC News, is known as "one of London's biggest gamblers."

As has also been reported by NBC and others, the apparently once-very lucky Ney reported winning some $34,000 a few months later at that same London casino, after an initial $100 bet "on two hands of a three-card game of chance," according to his spokesperson Brian Walsh. Ney, who coincidentally carried at least $30,000 in credit card debt in 2002, was fortunate to be able to report that the debt was paid off in full by the end of 2003.

The dots begin converging, however, in regard to both large campaign contributions and lobbying done by Ney's former chief of staff, DiStefano along with Coffee on behalf of both FN/FAZ Aviation and Diebold, Inc.

Ney was one of the original authors and lead co-sponsors of HAVA, and a fierce defender of both the act and the effort to keep further legislation from moving forward in Congress that would mandate Voter Verified Paper Ballots for electronic voting machines made by Diebold and other e-voting vendors.

In 2004, prior to the Presidential Election, Ney went so far as to send a "Dear Colleague" letter signed along with the other HAVA co-sponsors, to members of congress urging them not to amend the original legislation. He argued at the time that paper records on such machines would somehow disenfranchise disabled voters, who had been cleverly afforded a special provision in the bill which mandated at least one disabled-accessable device in every voting precinct in the country. That device, of course, would be a paperless touch-screen electronic voting machine, like the ones made by Diebold, which, legislators, vendors and lobbyists would later proffer, were required to meet provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Ney had also personally gone out of his way to keep Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act" (HR 550), which would mandate paper records for all votes cast, from ever seeing the light of day in the House Administration Committee. That, despite Holt's bill having now nearly 160 bi-partisan co-sponsors. Ney has succeeded brilliantly at squashing Holt's bill, first proposed as HR 2239 back in 2003, as it continues to both gain co-sponsors and gather dust as the powerful Republican committee chair still refuses to allow it even to be brought up for hearings.

The American Prospect's Art Levine broke a superb exposé last May concerning Ney's alleged payoffs from a number of the Indian tribes that now-disgraced, once-uber-lobbyist Abramoff was representing in exchange for promises to support their hope for new gambling legislation back in 2002.

"Just met with Ney!!! We're f'ing gold!!!! He's going to do Tigua," wrote Abramoff to Scanlon in an Email, after Ney reportedly promised to add the Tribe's hoped-for legislation to HAVA while the bill was still pending.

Ney then told the tribes --- who had been instructed by Abramoff and Scanlon to give tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign and to pay for a $100,000 trip to play golf at St. Andrews in Scotland --- that he was working with the Democratic Senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd, to add gambling language in HAVA that would be favorable to the tribes.

In reality, Dodd had rejected the idea early on in no uncertain terms, as Levine reports, but that didn't keep Ney from spinning tales to the tribal groups. He told them on several occassions, at least once personally, that things were moving smartly forward as he kept accepting more cash and gifts from them along the way.

Finally, when the HAVA legislation was passed, and the promised language was nowhere to be found, Ney informed the tribes that Dodd had reneged on the deal at the last minute.

That was, of course, not true, since Dodd had rejected the plan months earlier.

But as the spotlight of corruption has finally begun to shine bright and clear in the Mainstream Media onto Ney, renewed interest in his support and authorship of HAVA itself --- along with the connections between that legislation, chicanery in Ohio's Election, Abramoff and several other GOP operative and lobbying firms' merry band of pay-for-players --- are helping to bubble up towards the surface a few previously overlooked, but very important, details that may finally now receive the attention they always deserved from the Mainstream Media...

The BRAD BLOG has been reporting since early 2005 about Ney's role in authoring and co-sponsoring HAVA along with his various attempts to keep it from being amended to require Voter Verified Paper Ballots with every vote cast. More so, we've been reporting on his very specific efforts to smoke-screen the mountain of evidence suggesting massive fraud in Ohio's 2004 Presidential Election by --- among other things --- holding hearings in his House Administration Committee meant quite clearly to deflect the focus from the rampant Electoral Fraud in the Buckeye State in 2004 towards the trumped-up imaginery epidemic of Voter Fraud in that state and elsewhere around the country.

Ney's hearings, ostensibly publicized as "investigations" into the many Election Irregularities in Ohio, even went so far as to hear testimony from a self-described "voting rights" group calling themselves the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR). The tax-exempt 501(c)3, self-proclaimed "non-partisan" group was the only such "voting rights" group to give testimony to the committee. However, as The BRAD BLOG discovered at the time, the brand-new organization was little more than a phony GOP front group. It had been co-founded by two top-level Bush/Cheney/RNC operatives, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne and Jim Dyke.

As we reported back then, the phony ACVR had been formed just days prior to their giving testimony to Ney's congressional committee. The hearings --- held in Columbus, OH --- were on March 21, 2005. Yet the first known record of ACVR's emergence in the world was on its Internet domain registration (AC4VR.com) which was created on March 17, 2005 --- just two business days prior to the hearings!

Hearne --- who had been National General Counsel for Bush/Cheney '04 Inc. --- identified himself in his testimony at the hearings only as "a longtime advocate of voting rights and an attorney experienced in election law." He then was allowed to go on to testify about unsubstantiated, and later completely discredited charges of voter fraud while others testified misleadingly about long voting lines in all of Ohio's counties, instead of just those precincts which leaned heavily Democratic. Many of those Left-leaning precincts turned out to have had, in several cases, fewer voting machines deployed in the November general election than they reportedly had in the primary races just several months earlier.

For his part, Hearne's partner Dyke had been the RNC's Communication Director up to that point. Dyke now works in the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney and apparently continues his affiliation with the "non-partisan" ACVR in the bargain.

The HAVA legislation, while it does not explicitly require states or counties to upgrade their voting equipment to electronic touch-screen systems made by Ohio's Diebold, Inc. and others --- even while the opportunistic Voting Machine Vendors and the lazy Mainstream Media have otherwise perpetuated that myth for several years --- it does mandate that every precinct have at least one voting device that is accessable to disabled voters so that they may be able to cast their ballots secretly and without assistance.

Hence, Ney and the other original authors and lead co-sponsors of HAVA --- Dodd (D-CT) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Senate and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in the House --- have been playing up the "Disabled Voters Need Electronic Voting Machines!" card since its inception by hauling out various spokespeople from disabilities groups such as the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Representatives from those groups have testified at hearings and elsewhere to help make the case that their members simply must have computerized voting machines --- with no paper ballots --- or their civil rights will be denied.

What is rarely reported, when folks such as the AAPD's Jim Dickson inevitably show up at these hearings to testify, is that the NFB received a contribution of one million dollars from Diebold and Dickson's AAPD has received at least $26,000 from them as well, as reported by the NY Times and others.

(NOTE: Those spokespeople from disabilities groups not on the Diebold payroll, who don't buy into the tortured notion that they must have paperless touch-screen voting machines in order to protect their civil-rights --- folks like David Dixon of Florida's Handicapped Adults of Volusia County (HAVOC) --- are rarely called to testify at such hearings as those trumped-up by Bob Ney and friends.)

In addition to the "Dear Colleague" letter that Ney wrote (signed by him and his co-sponsors of the HAVA legislation) in 2004, asking members of congress not to amend the act to require paper trails, Ney has made every effort to ensure that the myriad reports of massive voter disenfranchisment and electoral irregularities that occurred in Ohio remain little more than "conspiracy theory", as far as both the Mainstream Media and the majority of the American electorate perceive the matters. He, and others who have lobbied hard on behalf of Diebold have continued to misleadingly forward the idea that what occurred in 2004, and subsequently in 2005 --- where some 44 out of 88 counties in Ohio went electronic for the first time --- is no cause for alarm. It's all little more than the imaginery ruminations of Democratic-party John Kerry supporters, according to such folks. That, despite the fact that it has been the Green and Liberterian parties who have, by and large, waged the most aggressive attempt to have votes counted in Ohio, along with the extraordinarily well-documented reports of chicanery exposed nationally throughout various local media. More information in that regard will likely surface via the still-pending lawsuit on all of this brought by the League of Women Voters in Ohio.

Add that to the "staggeringly impossible" results of the 2005 Election results there which were stunning, to say the least, and the shamefully under-reported story of the non-partisan Governmental Accountability Office's (GAO) damning report on HAVA and its gross failures released last September. All told, it would seem that Ney and the Voting Machine Companyies like Diebold have had every reason to squash whatever reporting they could on these matters, and so far, they've gotten the job largely done. At least in the mainstream outlets.

And finally then, it has recently been revealed that Diebold itself was also paying Abramoff's firm Greenberg Traurig directly for work in June of 2004 which has yet to be fully detailed or explained in any way.

A payment stub [PDF] and pre-check-register [PDF] revealing a $12,500 payment for the month, made from Diebold to Greenberg Traurig was discovered in a dumpster at Diebold's McKinney, TX facility in July of that year by electronic voting watchdog group BlackBoxVoting.org.

Perhaps that payment was part of the $275,000 we mentioned previously, as reportedly paid to Diebold. Though we've yet to find a reference to the work by Abramoff's old lobbying firm on behalf of Diebold listed in the Congressional lobbying database. So exactly what those payments were meant for, and where they ultimately ended up, remains unclear, at least to us, at this time.

It seems that the Tigua Indian tribe, which paid $32,000 to Ney and his political action committee on Abramoff and Scanlon's directive, and the two other tribes who paid $100,000 to send them all golfing in St. Andrews ultimately received little if anything for their investment.

Diebold, Inc. on the other hand, seems to have received quite a bit in return for their investment. At least in light of the continued lack of media scrutiny and congressional oversight their electronic touch-screen voting machines --- now proven on several occassions to be fully hackable and wholly unsecure --- have received from legislators like Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. The same Bob Ney who has worked so hard on their behalf --- not the voters' --- to ensure that all of those poor disabled folks would have at least one voting machine of the type manufactured by Diebold Inc., in every single precinct, in every single county, in every single state in the country in 2006. It's mandated by law, after all, by Bob Ney's Help America Vote Act of 2002. In this case, it seems, they got what they paid for.

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