Darrell Issa’s ongoing witch hunt over the IRS actually got somewhat interesting this week. At Thursday’s hearing where Issa hoped to continue his slander campaign against the DOJ career civil servant leading the IRS investigation, Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote dropped a bit of a bombshell. She announced during the hearing that she had filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee against Rep. Elijah Cummings for harassment and intimidation.
True the Vote was one of the organizations applying for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status that had been selected for additional scrutiny. Engelbrecht, as the founder and President of the group, insists that she has personally been targeted for political reasons by the IRS and by Cummings. After all, according to her, True the Vote is completely non-partisan and engages in social welfare simply by trying to improve the integrity of the election process. There should be no reason to suspect that True the Vote is anything but what they say they are, right? Wrong.
Let’s start with Engelbrecht herself. She claims in interviews that what she saw as a poll worker in 2008 was her “eureka” moment, except for other times when she says, “Then in 2008, I don’t know, something clicked,” she said. “I saw our country headed in a direction that, for whatever reason — it didn’t hit me until 2008 — this really threatens the future of our children.” Gee, what could have happened in 2008 that would give her that distinctly non-partisan impression? Perhaps her group’s activities since then could give us a clue.
In 2010, True the Vote, which started as an outgrowth of Engelbrecht group, King Street Patriots, began gearing up for mid-term elections. They focused on Texas, specifically Houston, since Engelbrecht lived nearby. Engelbrecht went searching for evidence of voter registration fraud in Harris County. True the Vote only “examined” low-income, minority districts and flagged households with six or more members as fraudulent registrations. They also erroneously claimed that people were registered with addresses that were vacant lots. Engelbrecht accused a local civic group, Houston Votes, of generating fraudulent voter registrations, calling them the “the Texas office of the New Black Panthers.” At the same time, Engelbrecht’s Tea Party group, King Street Patriots, put up a video where a black woman’s protest sign had been altered to read, “I only got to vote once.” The sign actually said, “Don’t Mess With Our Vote.” Engelbrecht’s unfounded allegations led to Houston Votes receiving threatening, racist emails and severely impacted the group’s attempts to register new voters. True the Vote’s actions before that election were so egregious and generated so many complaints that the DOJ sent election monitors to the state.
True the Vote’s next major “non-partisan” foray was to interfere with the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. True the Vote, in a collaborative effort with two other Tea Party groups, claimed that their proprietary software was able to determine that the recall petitions were filled with multiple ineligible signatures. True the Vote said their “analysis” showed the petitions were 6,000 signatures shy of the required amount, but they failed to even look at over 14,000 pages of petitions. They stopped before their own analysis would prove them wrong. Some of the specious criteria that True the Vote claimed made a signature invalid were:
- Adding the abbreviation “WI” after a zip code
- Stray marking on signature dates
- Forgetting to add the year on a signature date
Under Wisconsin law, these would all be considered valid signatures. True the Vote also counted as invalid signatures where their own people had incorrectly entered data into their database. The actual petitions showed that the signatures were completely valid. Finally, they considered as invalid signatures they flagged as needing “further investigation.” Those signatures represented almost half of the number of signatures required for the petition to be successful. True the Vote’s claims were quickly rejected by the state.
In the 2012 election, True the Vote focused their efforts on several states. Invariably, they only investigate low-income, minority, or heavily Democratic districts. They never challenge voters in affluent, majority white, Republican districts. They also engaged in attempts to purge college students, trailer park residents, homeless people, and African Americans in Ohio counties that President Obama won in 2008 through tactics such as voter caging. In 2012, a Texas judge ruled that True the Vote was acting as a political action committee, violating state campaign finance law. That alone should have disqualified the organization from receiving tax-exempt status.
Engelbrecht is a fixture on the right-wing circuit, speaking regularly at events organized by conservative partisan groups. In 2012, she opened her speech at the GOP’s Voter Vigilante Project Summit in Colorado this way:
The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried “dead people” on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting.
In October 2012, Cummings opened an investigation based on the multiple reports of True the Vote’s voter suppression tactics. In his letter to Engelbrecht, Cummings wrote, “”At some point, an effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression,” wrote Cummings. “If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” Based on True the Vote’s history, Cummings had justification to investigate their activities, just as the IRS had every justification to question whether True the Vote was conducting predominately social welfare activities as opposed to partisan political activities. If you look at Engelbrecht’s history, you see this:
- Some momentous event happened in 2008 that threatened the future of our children.
- This event caused her to create the King Street Patriots Tea Party group
- She felt driven to challenge the ability of low-income, minorities, and Democrats to cast their votes, but not affluent, white Republicans
On its face, you can’t help but to be drawn to the suspicion that just maybe Engelbrecht is not being forthright. Her goal appears to be to elect 1) Republicans, 2) whites, or 3) a combination of the two, using unethical and potentially illegal tactics. Rep. Cummings needs to stay strong and not allow Engelbrecht to intimidate him like she tries to intimidate the wrong kind of voters. I have no doubt that he will. He does not seem to be the type of person that is easily intimidated.