Guest Blogged by Howard Beale of Fired Up! Missouri
On Wednesday The BRAD BLOG pointed out just one of the reasons he may be trying, as much as he is, to make his American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) past disappear. It seems the group lied about their activities on their federal 990 public tax disclosure forms. But here comes another reason he may be hoping to hide his sordid past.
More so than ever before, the interconnected nature of the national and Missouri-based efforts to advance specious "voter fraud" claims and bend the operation of government entities to specific partisan political advantage is becoming clear. And the centrality of Mark F. "Thor" Hearne II to all of those efforts has never been more obvious than it is after the aggregation of a number of key facts.
State corporate and federal tax filings indicate that Thor Hearne --the undisputed mastermind and ringleader of the now-defunct and "disappeared" ACVR --- was responsible for the creation of a Missouri-based front group that issued public "reports" about topics like voter registration fraud which echoed messages being pushed at the national level by prominent GOP officials and ACVR itself. The Missouri organization, the Center for Ethics and the Free Market, was partially funded with one of the only (if not the only) monetary grants awarded by the ACVR and had its bookkeeping and non-profit filings done by Garrett Lott, a key figure in the Missouri fee office management company scheme overseen by Show-Me State Governor Matt Blunt and run out of Hearne's powerful Missouri law firm, Lathrop & Gage.
While the ACVR was likely not even a gleam in his eye, back in February 2003, Thor Hearne filed paperwork with Missouri's Secretary of State to create a non-profit corporation called Center for Research of Ethics in Public Policy and the Free Market. Those records indicate that Hearne --addressed at the St. Louis office of his Lathrop & Gage law firm --- is the registered agent for the outfit. That organization, either for purposes of brevity or for throwing researchers off the trail, uses a slightly modified version of that name --- the Center for Ethics and the Free Market-- for its operations.
Among the work done by the Center for Ethics and the Free Market is "research" that tracks very closely with the "voter fraud" and "voter registration fraud" fearmongering that had been undertaken nationally by the American Center for Voting Rights. In June 2004, just months in advance of a presidential-year general election, the Center for Ethics and the Free Market issued a report that purportedly pointed to "concerns" with Missouri voter registration efforts [PDF] undertaken by progressive groups like America Coming Together and Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition. That report included language intended to inflate the potential for "voter fraud" --- language that has become familiar via various national voter suppression efforts...
The Center for Ethics report is precisely the sort of ginned-up exhibit pointed to by Thor Hearne's American Center for Voting Rights as evidence that restrictive new laws like photo identification voting requirements needed to be implemented in critical swing states like Missouri. How fitting, then, that Hearne was actually responsible not just for creating the Center for Ethics that would concoct his "evidence" but also for making sure the group was funded as well.
As deftly pointed out by diarist Ms. Panstreppon at TPMCafe, the IRS 990 forms filed by the American Center for Voting Rights for 2005 [PDF] indicate that the only grant awarded by ACVR in that year was written in the amount of $28,000 and given to the Center for Ethics and the Free Market. It's worth noting that on the same IRS 990 form, ACVR reports having paid $122,870 to Thor Hearne's law firm, Lathrop & Gage for "Program/Legal Services." That payment was the largest expenditure for professional services made by ACVR in the 2005 year.
For its part, the Center for Ethics and the Free Market --apart from the direction taken on voting issues from Hearne and his national outfit-- was run by known GOP consultants with extremely close ties to Matt Blunt and Missouri's GOP establishment. As other bloggers have noted, the Center for Ethics' board is dominated by two men, Woody Cozad and Rich McClure, who served as right-hand advisors to GOP governors Kit Bond and John Ashcroft respectively. The Center's daily business and operation was for most of its active period handled by employees of prominent GOP consulting firm John Hancock & Associates. Hancock --a consultant to the Missouri Republican Party and Gov. Matt Blunt-- had the Center's website registered in his firm's name and had employee Kyle Reliford serve as the outfit's executive director.
Even more interesting is the identity of the individual whom Hearne and Hancock had running the nuts and bolts financial and IRS reporting for the Center for Ethics and the Free Market. According to IRS 990 non-profit forms filed by Center for the Ethics and the Free Market [PDF], the organization's reporting requirements were prepared and signed by none other than Garrett Lott, a man whose curriculum vitae is reminiscent of that of a mob bookkeeper and who is at the center of the Matt Blunt administration's political operation and his pay-to-play fee office scheme.
Besides serving as a paid consultant to high-profile campaigns like those of Matt Blunt and Jim Talent, Lott has also been linked to committees through which disgraced DC GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff funneled cash. But more disturbing in light of his newly discovered connection with Thor Hearne is Lott's history as a key cog in Governor Blunt's fee office money-pumping machine.
Garrett Lott has profited both directly and indirectly from Governor Matt Blunt's fee office scheme. As this graphic from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch demonstrates, Lott is not only the recipient of a patronage-plum fee office himself, but receives income in the form of revenue kicked up by eleven other fee offices to a management company that he runs. Those management companies and their corporate shells were set up by attorneys at the firm of Lathrop & Gage --the same firm that employs the attorney who constructed the corporate entity for Center for Ethics and the Free Market, for which Lott keeps the books.
So why does it matter that Garrett Lott was connected with Hearne via the ACVR-Center for Ethics and the Free Market operation?
In part because it lends an even greater degree of clarity to the reasons for Thor Hearne's personal intervention in the federal investigation of the Missouri fee office scheme that was ongoing in 2006. Hearne has all but admitted that he had a hand in Lathrop & Gage's hiring of former Justice Department and criminal attorney William Mateja to contact U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins on behalf of Governor Matt Blunt while Cummins looked into allegations of impropriety in the award and management of state fee offices.
If Lott --who would likely have been at the center of any investigation of shady fee office practices-- was going to be talking to federal law enforcement about fee offices, Hearne would have been concerned about the potentially devastating possibility that Lott could be pressured into sharing information about any number of organizations and plots in which he was involved. Including his role as numbers cruncher for Hearne's Missouri "voter fraud" front, Center for Ethics and the Free Market.
Hearne had every reason, beyond mere partisan allegiance or kinship with the Governor, to think that the Cummins fee office investigations could have very negative impacts on his own programs, like the house-of-cards alliance of phony voter fraud organizations that he'd worked so hard to build.
But more broadly, the discovery of Hearne's ties to the Center for Ethics and the Free Market serves as a reminder that is unproductive to think of either the "voter fraud" scheme, the fee office scheme, or plain-old GOP politics as separate and distinct from each other. At their core, they're all part of the same thing. The more digging that people do, the more they find the same players --longtime GOP stalwarts like Thor Hearne and Garrett Lott-- using trickery and institutions to ingrain permanent GOP advantages.
The folks who build a baroque structure of fee office management companies so that they can accrue financial political advantages for GOP campaigns are the same folks making up organizations to front for policy changes that would jury-rig the electoral system in favor of Republicans and are the same folks who try to keep all the players in all the schemes out of the lock-up. So, in a perverse way, I guess it makes sense for them all to use the same guy to file their IRS and FEC reports.
Point is, it's a small circle of people who continually crop up, each with one hand in the till and the other trying to rewrite the rules of the game so that no one will ever find out. And somehow they all either owe a debt of gratitude to Matt Blunt, or Blunt owes one to them. Or both.
Hearne will explain this as some irrelevant coincidence. He, like the governor and every other GOP blogger and apologist, has done everything possible to keep the "voter fraud" scheme, the U.S. Attorney firings story, and the Blunt fee office controversy a million miles apart from one another. With what we know now about the snug fit with Thor Hearne and Garrett Lott and their interlocking roles with several disparate pieces of the puzzle, the coincidence theory has gone from unlikely to implausible.