The political blogosphere has been exploding these past couple weeks over a special congressional election in an unlikely portion of upstate New York. A key reason is the connections between the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, a virtual adjunct to the more reprehensible sectors of the Democratic Party. An ACORN front group, the Working Families Party (WFP), on October 9 formally endorsed the Democratic opponent in this tight three-person race. But the WFP has endorsed Scozzafava more than once in the past. And a major reason is that her husband, Ron McDougall, is an organizer for one of the unions that created the party back in the late Nineties. Scozzafava has yet to repudiate either ACORN or the WFP.
It’s impossible to ignore the ethical train wreck that is ACORN. More than any other organization, it’s where Leftism and corruption converge in the service of political ambition. The New Orleans-based nonprofit network, which claims more than 400,000 member households in 1,200 chapters, operates under its own name and through 360 front groups. ACORN and its affiliates have been at the center of official investigations into voter registration fraud, tax evasion, embezzlement and other felonies. In the case of voter registration fraud, ACORN operatives in several states already have pleaded guilty to running scams. The IRS and the Census Bureau, if perhaps more out of damage control than principle, announced several weeks ago they would cease their respective partnerships with ACORN. The House and Senate each voted to cut off funds, though final legislation has not been approved.
ACORN enjoys close working relationships with many Obama administration officials, including President Obama himself. Patrick Gaspard, Obama’s political director, worked with ACORN in New York to set up the Working Families Party. He also sat on the party’s board with co-chair Bertha Lewis – the same Bertha Lewis who since last year has served as ACORN chief organizer following her lengthy stint as head of ACORN’s New York City operations. But why is the Republican candidate for New York’s 23rd congressional district, Dede Scozzafava, tight with Lewis? Columnist Michelle Malkin terms Lewis “a close Scozzafava friend and political supporter.”
At first glance, the two have little basis even for a casual “hello,” let alone a friendship. Aside from the candidate’s party membership, the 23rd congressional district encompasses much of the area in and around the Adirondack Mountains, a region geographically, culturally and racially about as far removed from ACORN New York’s Brooklyn headquarters as can be imagined. Its principle communities, Plattsburgh and Watertown, have respective populations of around 20,000 and 25,000. The far north district is overwhelmingly white, unlike ACORN’s heavily black and Hispanic rank and file. That’s a major reason why the Republican Party has continuously held the seat since 1871. Its representative until recently was nine-term Republican John McHugh, who resigned to become President Obama’s Army secretary this past September. Scozzafava is a stockbroker, not a community activist, and has served continuously in the New York legislature since first elected in 1998.
But on closer inspection, the bond isn’t so strange. For one thing, Deidre “Dede” Scozzafava isn’t a typical Republican. Despite her support for gun rights (she’s received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association), she is a reliable supporter of Democratic initiatives. She supports cap-and-trade anti-global warming legislation, the $787 billion Obama stimulus plan, and state-sanctioned gay marriage. More to the point, she is a strong supporter of federal “card check” legislation that would force private-sector employers to recognize a union as the sole collective-bargaining agent if a union organizing drive at a given work site generates signatures indicating more than 50 percent of affected workers want to join. Even by moderate Republican standards, in other words, she’s on the left.
Second, and related to the first, Scozzafava’s husband, Ron McDougall, is a union man and an ally of the Working Families Party. ACORN activist Steven Kest (in picture, foreground) launched the party in 1998 with the help of a pair of unions, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the United Automobile Workers (UAW). The Working Families Party is wholly owned by ACORN all but in name. They share office suites in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Any candidate receiving a WFP endorsement in effect is receiving an ACORN endorsement. ACORN activists created the party with a specific purpose: to move the Democratic Party leftward in the half-dozen states that allow “fusion” voting; i.e., that allow candidates to be cross-listed on ballots under more than one party. New York is one of those states.
It’s more than of passing interest that Mrs. Scozzafava’s name appeared on the WFP line with John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. It’s also more than of passing interest that McDougall is a prominent upstate New York union organizer and a member of the UAW, one of the WFP’s founding organizations. He’s also head of the Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties Central Labor Council, which represents many workers in the 23rd District. McDougall has made 64 documented contributions to the Working Families Party since 2002 totaling $690. That’s not exactly a king’s ransom, but it does a reveal a few things about his wife’s motives. Not surprisingly, the labor council (with McDougall recusing himself) has endorsed Scozzafava’s current campaign. She’s also received endorsements from upstate New York affiliates of five other labor organizations: the United Auto Workers; New York State United Teachers; National Rural Letter Carriers Association; the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; and the Plattsburgh-Saranac Lake Building & Construction Trades Council.
The WFP knows its association with ACORN is radioactive. Mrs. Scozzafava knows it, too, which is why she hasn’t been too disappointed over the October 9 endorsement by the WFP of her Democratic opponent, Bill Owens. The powerful New York City-based health care workers union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, also has endorsed Owens. But common sense says that if Mrs. Scozzafava is elected, she effectively will have established a Republican congressional beachhead for ACORN, who would claim its “bipartisanship.” It’s not as if her own party will be against her. Top GOP members sending her checks include House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Virginia), National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (California), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), and Rep. Peter King (N.Y.).
How did leading Republicans, some of whom (like Boehner) have been ACORN’s toughest critics, come to endorse a candidate with a history of endorsements by its main political front, the Working Families Party? Much of it is due to the peculiarities of New York politics. For nearly 50 years, the state has had four major political parties: Democrat, Republican, Liberal and Conservative. Typically, only two candidates run in a given race. That is, the Democrat gets the Liberal Party endorsement, and the Republican gets the Conservative endorsement. But sometimes the state’s sizable contingent of moderate Republicans nominates a candidate too lukewarm for Conservative tastes. When that happens, the Conservatives run their own candidate. The result can be a plurality victory. That’s how James Buckley, running as a Conservative but not as a Republican, was elected U.S. senator in 1970 with only 38.7 percent of the vote.
The Conservative “wild card” this time around is one Doug Hoffman. An accountant, Hoffman is campaigning on fiscal responsibility, and now has called upon Scozzafava to quit the race. He’s gotten endorsements from former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., former House Majority leader Dick Armey, R-Tex., former Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the Club for Growth, and Concerned Women for America. Every conservative nationwide now is looking at this race as a dress rehearsal for 2010 and 2012.
Dede Scozzafava, meanwhile, is a Republican running in a longtime Republican district, but against a liberal Democrat and a conservative non-Republican. Whoever wins likely will prevail by a close plurality. She knows the importance of getting the organized labor vote without giving the appearance of slumming for an ACORN endorsement. The winner of this year’s special congressional election in New York’s 20th District, Scott Murphy, a Democrat, owed his slim margin of victory over Republican Jim Tedisco, to union endorsements. That race was held to determine a successor to Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, who had been named Senator to replace now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Scozzafava won the GOP endorsement in July during a meeting of 11 county party chairmen at a Potsdam, N.Y. pizzeria. The bosses were looking for someone with local name recognition and an understanding of economic issues. Scozzafava, a native of Gouverneur, N.Y., seemed the right person for the job. Though liberal, she won over party officials. “We asked, is it possible to put in place a Republican candidate that uniformly stands for all the conservative values of the far right, but is unelectable?,” said Hamilton County GOP Chairman William Farber. “I would much rather have a candidate like Dede Scozzafava that I don’t agree with 100% of the time, but always has been honest and forthright.”
But the candidate has a history that might prompt questions. In addition to her Working Families Party connections, she works part-time as an adviser to RBC Dain Rauscher, a Watertown-based investment firm. She also has ties to the financially-troubled Seaway Capital Partners, which is operated by her brother, Tom, and has nearly $200,000 in tax liens on it. One of Seaway’s holdings is Hackett’s Department Stores, where Mrs. Scozzafava is listed as chief operating officer.
Whether Scozzafava or Hoffman deserves endorsements from mainstream Republicans is a separate issue. But there is another issue that transcends partisan politics: ACORN’s radioactive reputation. By all accounts, the nonprofit activist network systematically has engaged in, or turned a blind eye from, criminal wrongdoing. This summer, Republican staffers of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released a report concluding ACORN qualifies as a racketeering enterprise. No candidate of any party should seek support from any ACORN-sponsored entity. That the WFP has endorsed Bill Owens shouldn’t let Scozzafava or her Republican Party supporters off the hook. John Boehner should worry less about putting Scozzafava in Congress and more about defunding ACORN so it will be less able to work its mischief.