Project Vote’s Amy Busefink: A Progressive From the Neighborhood Gets Busted
By Le Corbeaunoir
It is not every day that someone from the neighborhood makes national news, and it makes sense for a member of the public to think that such an event would attract the attention of the local press. Alas, that is not always the case when it comes to the liberal media.
That having been said, it is remarkable that a 19-month criminal prosecution for voter registration law violations committed by a Pinellas County leftist working for a nationally-scandalized progressive activist group with ties to the Democratic Party has received virtually no coverage in the local press: As a result of this self-imposed news blackout, the recent prosecution of Amy Busefink by the Nevada authorities has made her notorious across the country, yet little is known locally about her and her crimes. That is unfortunate, because this case can be very instructive on the matter of how and why the radicals see voter registration as a key battleground in their class warfare strategy.
With that in mind, this post is intended to help conservatives get a handle on this case, and understand who was involved, what happened, why it happened, and what it means.
Amy Busefink, ACORN, and Project Vote
Amy Adele Busefink grew up in Seminole, Florida. She is a 2000 graduate of Seminole High School, and she graduated in 2003 from Florida State University with a B.A. in Political Science. She is described by people who know her as being well-mannered, sociable, and having many friends among the people she grew up with locally. Busefink has also been a progressive activist for for almost a decade, first working directly for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and, most recently, through one of ACORN’s front groups, Project Vote.
Busefink’s current Project Vote biography reads as follows:
As Project Vote’s Field Director, Amy Busefink is responsible for the development and execution of field activities across Project Vote’s many program areas. Working with the Election Administration program, she works to develop field strategies for moving issues in several states, including the preregistration of 16 and 17-year-old citizens and voter registration on high school campuses. Over the last two years, Ms. Busefink has participated in the successful fight against legislation that creates barriers to voters, including photo ID efforts in Missouri. She continues to develop voter participation and voter registration field programs, utilizing new and exciting technology for Get-Out-the-Vote efforts.
Ms. Busefink came to Project Vote as its national voter registration director in June 2006, when she assumed responsibility for Project Vote’s 2006 voter registration program. She ran field operations for Project Votes [sic] 2008 voter registration program, which collected 1.1 million applications. She came to Project Vote with four years of grassroots organizing experience, including managing the North Florida field program of the successful 2004 Florida Minimum Wage Campaign. Ms. Busefink graduated from Florida State University in 2003 with a B.A. in Political Science. She resides in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Many of those on the Left have a practice of keeping information about their past associations vague and ambiguous, especially if those associations are controversial, and overstating their accomplishments. In fact, a lot of the progressives have lately scrubbed their various on-line profiles to remove, obscure, or disguise their past association with ACORN. Perhaps this explains some of the oddities of Busefink’s profile.
To begin with, Busefink’s new Project Vote profile does not even mention ACORN. ACORN’s own 2006 annual report (the last one that it published) does, however, identify her as serving on that organization’s national staff as its Voter Registration Director, and in her LinkedIn profile, Busefink continues to identify herself as the National Voter Registration Director at ACORN.
Busefink’s claim that Project Vote’s 2008 voter registration program collected 1.1 million applications is misleading: On October 6, 2008, ACORN and Project Vote publicly announced that they had registered 1.3 million new voters, but asked about this figure in a New York Times interview, Project Vote’s executive director, Michael Slater, admitted that the figure was closer to 450,000, that approximately 400,000 of the voter applications collected had been rejected by election officials for various reasons, and that the remainder were from previously registered voters who were changing their addresses.1
Busefink’s biography also glosses over her management of the North Florida field program of the “2004 Florida Minimum Wage Campaign,” which in actuality refers to her work with the controversial ACORN-operated political action committee (PAC) Floridians for All. While Floridians for All presented itself as simply a non-partisan charity dedicated to registering people to vote and collecting signatures for a minimum wage amendment to the Florida constitution, the very first paragraph of its October 1, 2003 Campaign Plan described its purpose as follows:
A Florida constitutional amendment initiative to create a minimum wage of $6.15 with indexing will help defeat George W. Bush and other Republicans by increasing Democratic tirnout in a close election, will deliver wage gains to at least 300,000 Floridians, and will catalyze the construction of permanent progressive political that will help redirect Florida politics in a more progressive, Democratic direction.
Class warfare and promotion of the “progressives” and the Democratic Party permeates the campaign plan and, on September 19, 2006 it formed part of the basis of a complaint (MUR 5820) to the Federal Election Commission by Manuel Iglesias about the failure of ACORN and Project Vote to file independent expenditure reports and other documents concerning their partisan political activities. In his complaint, Iglesias documented how in the 2004 election ACORN engaged in a coordinated campaign with the express purpose of defeating Republican candidates for federal office and supporting Democrat candidates for federal office, and how ACORN’s Campaign Plan was funded with undisclosed and unlimited contributions in violation of federal law. The complaint and attachments comprise a fascinating view of the interlocking relationships of the Leftists in and out of the Democratic Party, especially in light of the results of the 2008 and 2010 elections.
The response of ACORN, prepared by Atty. Elizabeth J. Kingsley of the law firm Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg, LLP, and dated November 16, 2006, attacked the legal sufficiency of the complaint, asserted that ACORN and Project Vote were separate corporations, claimed that the Floridians for All Campaign Plan was “an internal first draft that was rejected and revised” and that all of the objectionable parts had been removed, and asserted that the complaint had no factual basis other than discredited documents and defamatory claims of a disgruntled former employee. Regarding the “internal first draft,” the response went on to assert that its author, Brian Kettenring, “did not have authority to adopt or implement such a plan.” Attachments to the response included a sworn declaration of Kettenring which, among other things, reiterated the lack of authority assertion and claimed that he gave a copy of the “draft” to an ACORN employee named “Joe Johnson” who shortly thereafter left ACORN on bad terms and did not return an edited version of the document to Kettenring, implying — but not stating — that Mr. Johnson was the source of the allegedly unapproved draft relied on by Iglesias. Interestingly, Kettenring was never demoted, punished, or otherwise sanctioned by ACORN for writing such a potentially damaging document in the first place and was ACORN’s Deputy Director of National Operations at the time he left that organization in February 2009.
The FEC decision regarding the Iglesias complaint, dated November 6, 2007, was to accept the representations of ACORN, find “no reason to believe” ACORN and Project Vote violated the law, and drop the case. The FEC never examined the failure to file expenditure reports or statements of organization, or otherwise conduct a full investigation of the case.
Perhaps, in light of recent events, the FEC should have. If it had conducted a full investigation, the FEC would have learned, for starters, that “Joe Johnson” was a veteran St. Petersburg, Florida political consultant hired by ACORN in 2004 to run the Florida campaign, that he was repeatedly told that helping Democrats was the main goal, and that he left the campaign in August because he was increasingly uncomfortable with ACORN’s methods.2 Had the FEC done a proper inquiry, their investigators might also have learned, as ACORN’s attorney Elizabeth Kingsley understated in a memorandum dated June 19, 2008, that there was “inadequate importance given to legal technicalities” by ACORN’s leaders. The FEC would have discovered, as outlined in Kingsley’s report, that ACORN thoroughly commingled the personnel and other assets among its various front organizations as a matter of plan and practice, with no “walls” to prevent illegal activity such as set out in the Iglesias complaint.
Busefink did not write the Campaign Plan, but she worked for Kettenring and other progressives in ACORN, and it was in that environment that she became a nationally-prominent voter registration activist for the Left. Controversy was a way of life with ACORN, and it was perhaps inevitable that Busefink would get caught up in a controversy that had the potential to mark her with a criminal conviction.
The Nevada Controversy
During its voter registration drive leading up to the 2008 general elections the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) submitted 91,002 completed forms to Clark County, of which 28,097 were duplicates or changes of name, party or address, leaving 62,905 new voters. Of these, only 23,186 turned out to be valid new voters who voted in the 2008 general election. Thus, almost 40,000 of the new voters registered by ACORN did not vote, and of those, almost 19,000 had information on file with Clark County that did not match the information on the voter registration forms that ACORN turned in.3 A high number of the forms turned in also featured the names of famous athletes and cartoon characters, according to Harvard “Larry” Lomax, the Clark County registrar of voters.4 Lomax complained about this to the Nevada Secretary of State.
The basis of the criminal case against Amy Busefink, Christopher Edwards, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is summarized in the 2009 sworn affidavit of Colin Haynes, a Criminal Investigator III with the Nevada Secretary of State, which set forth probable cause that Christopher Edwards, Amy Busefink and ACORN committed the offense of Compensation for Registration of Voters based upon number of Voters Registered, a category E felony in violation of NRS 293.805 (1) (a) within Clark County, Nevada, which includes the Las Vegas Township. It is a crime in Nevada to pay incentives for voter registrations because it encourages people to submit fraudulent voter registration forms.
According to the affidavit, on July 2, 2008, Haynes was assigned to investigate a referral regarding a series of apparently fraudulent Voter Registration Application (VRA) forms that were filed with the Clark County Registrar of Voters by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Inc. (ACORN). ACORN had been incorporated in the State of Nevada as a Foreign Non-Profit Corporation under Corporation Number C14579-2004 since June 2, 2004. During the investigation he learned certain facts, which lead him to believe that ACORN, Christopher Edwards, and Amy Busefink had committed Compensation for Registration of Voters based upon number of Voters Registered within Clark County.
Haynes began his investigation after the Secretary of State received a complaint from Harvard “Larry” Lomax, the Clark County Registrar of Voters. In this complaint Lomax stated that his office had received a significant number of Voter Registration Application (VRA) forms that appeared to be fraudulent. Lomax identified that many of these applications were submitted to the County by ACORN. Lomax described that his office was able to identify the applications submitted by ACORN because the serial numbers of all applications issued to ACORN were recorded prior to issuance.
Based upon this referral, the Nevada Secretary of State opened an investigation to determine if fraudulent VRA forms were being submitted to the county and if so, the circumstances surrounding the submission of these forms. The subsequent investigation revealed that throughout 2008, ACORN hired canvassers whose job was to approach members of the public and encourage and assist them to register to vote by completing a VRA form and giving the completed VRA form back to the canvasser. These completed VRA forms were then returned to ACORN by the canvassers. From there, the completed forms were sent to the county registrar by ACORN.
Statements provided by witnesses employed by ACORN as canvassers, Team leaders, Political Organizers (supervisors) and the Field Director for the Las Vegas office revealed that ACORN paid their canvassers an hourly rate of between $8.00 and $9.00 per hour. In addition to this hourly rate ACORN paid their canvassers financial incentives based on the number of completed VRA forms submitted by each canvasser. Specifically, ACORN was paying bonuses of $5.00 per shift to canvassers who brought in 21 or more completed forms in one shift. This bonus was commonly known as “Blackjack.” Statements provided by witnesses employed by ACORN as canvassers, Team leaders, Political Organizers (supervisors) and the Field Director for the Las Vegas office revealed that ACORN made continued employment, and continued compensation, contingent upon the canvasser registering a specific number of voters each day. According to these statements and ACORN training documentation that Haynes reviewed, this number was set at 20 forms per day. It was the policy of ACORN to terminate from employment canvassers who failed to obtain 20 VRA forms per day.
On October 7, 2008, as part of this ongoing investigation, Haynes obtained and served asearch warrant (the application and affidavit for which can be found here) at the office of ACORN, located at 953 East Sahara Avenue Suite D18, Las Vegas, Nevada 89109. Property seized subject to this warrant included the computer hard drives found in the office and hard copy documentation. Haynes reviewed the information contained on these hard drives and contained in the hard copy documents also seized from the office. He found a document titled “Orientation Outline” that appeared to contain instructions for the presentation of orientation training to newly hired canvassers. Item number 7 on this document stated:
Review goals and standards for each canvasser – It is important that each canvasser understand what their daily and weekly goals will be. There should be a minimum number set so that each canvasser understands the standards. They must understand what number they need to meet in order to be kept on staff. Convey to the participants that the standards are real and will be strictly enforced.
This document was subsequently shown to Alicia Estrada, an ex-Political Organizer at ACORN. Estrada identified this document as the outline for the presentation of orientation training to newly hired canvassers. Haynes also located scanned copies of timesheets that document the hours worked by canvassers. These timesheets contained a column titled “other/bonus.” The timesheets documented any extra payments or bonuses to which the canvasser was entitled.
On January 13, 2009, Estrada was interviewed regarding this investigation. She stated the following:
• She interviewed with ACORN for the position of Political Organizer in January 2008 in Chicago. She was hired in February 2008 and was sent to Miami for a one month training course, along with other Political Organizers who were hired at about the same time. After this training she was sent to Las Vegas.
• As a Political Organizer her job was to hire canvassers, conduct orientation and training for the new hires and then manage them; dealing with payroll and daily office organization. At the Las Vegas office, Chris Edwards was the senior manager for ACORN. His job title was Field Director.
• Canvassers were required to bring in at least 20 completed VRA forms each shift. This was a policy of ACORN and Estrada was told this during her one month training in Miami. All Political Organizers were assigned a team of canvassers and the Political Organizers had to ensure that their team brought in 1000 completed cards per week. The policy of ACORN was that canvassers had to meet this quota or be terminated from employment; however this was not uniformly enforced and it was left to each individual Political Organizer to deal with any of their canvassers who failed to meet this quota.
• Estrada did not like to terminate canvassers who did not bring in 20 cards, although she did fire a few. Some of the other Political Organizers were much stricter and fired many canvassers for failing to meet this quota.
• The fact that each canvasser had to meet this 20 card quota was communicated to the canvassers and the fact that continued employment depended on meeting this quota was also communicated to the canvassers.
• In addition to earning their hourly rate, canvassers could earn a bonus if they brought in at least 21 completed cards per shift. The bonus was an extra $5.00 for each day that they hit this target. This bonus was called “Blackjack”. The bonus was introduced several times, depending on how well things were going. It would run for a while and then stop. Edwards was the person who decided if and when to offer the blackjack bonus.
• It was the responsibility of each Political Organizer to complete canvasser timesheets and input the data into the payroll system. If a bonus or extra money was added to payroll the reason for the bonus was supposed to be identified within the payroll system. Extra money was paid to canvassers for things such as gas money, bus fares and heat allowance. When Political Organizers entered the data into the payroll system they were encouraged to identify what the extra pay was for, but this was not always done.
• Some canvassers were docked pay if they did not meet quota. Estrada saw examples of canvassers being told that they had to stay out in the field for as long as it took to get 20 cards, but if they came in with less, the Political Organizer would not pay them for all the hours they worked. Estrada saw examples of Political Organizers taking time sheets that reflected a canvasser working a certain number of hours per day and then crossing out those hours and putting in a lower number of hours on the time sheet. Estrada identified 5 timesheets that she had signed as the supervisor that documented the payment of “Blackjack” or “21+” bonuses to canvassers. Estrada also identified 23 other timesheets that identified the payment of $5.00 bonuses to staff. On these timesheets the reason for the bonus was not always identified; however Estrada recalled that many were payment of the “blackjack” bonus.
On January 8, 2009, Haynes interviewed Joseph Camp regarding this investigation. Camp stated the following:
• Camp was employed by ACORN from February 2008 until the end of 2008. When he was initially hired he was hired to work in the quality control department, called the Organization or Operation Call Center (OCC). In May 2008, CAMP took over as the OCC manager, initially as acting manager in May and June and then as fully promoted manager in July 2008. Camp remained manager of the OCC until October 2008.
• Among other duties, the staff of the OCC would identify canvassers who were submitting too few VRA forms each day. he OCC staff would complete a Performance Investigation Worksheet when they identified canvassers who were submitting too few VRA forms. In many cases involving canvassers submitting too few cards, the Political Organizer supervising the canvasser may already have addressed the issue with the canvasser before the OCC manager identified a problem.
• To Camp’s knowledge there wasn’t a single cut-off number below which a canvasser was considered to be under-performing. The number at which this determination was made varied depending on many factors and was often left up to the Political Organizer supervising the canvasser.
• If a canvasser was under–performing they were put on Ultimatum, which meant that they were counseled and told that they had to bring in more forms or they would be fired. Canvassers were usually given a maximum of 4 days to improve and then they were fired. A canvasser may be counseled several times before being fired.
• As manager of the OCC, Camp performed Performance Investigations for low numbers of VRA forms. Camp counseled about twenty canvassers for turning in a low number of cards and he believed that he ultimately fired about 15 of those.
• Camp confirmed that ACORN fired a significant number of canvassers for both suspected fraud and for turning in an unacceptably low number of VRA forms. Of those terminated, Camp estimated that sixty percent were terminated for turning in an unacceptably low number of VRA forms and forty percent were for suspected fraud.
• In addition to their hourly rate, canvassers could get addition bonuses or payments, such as bus fares, gas money and bi-lingual allowance. In September 2008, Edwards announced that canvassers could be paid an additional bonus; Camp believed $5.00, if they submitted 21 or more VRA forms per day. They called this “Blackjack and it was written on the white board for everyone to see.
On February 5, 2009, Haynes interviewed John Creedon regarding this investigation. He stated the following:
• Creedon went to work for ACORN in February or March 2008. After one day as a canvasser, he was promoted to Team Leader. In May 2008, Creedon became a Political Organizer and was assigned his own team of canvassers to supervise. Creedon also spent a short time working in the OCC.
• Team Leaders were expected to bring in more completed VRA forms than canvassers, but everyone had a quota to meet. It was communicated to all staff that there were expectations in terms of the number of forms they had to bring in each day. Creedon could not recall exactly what the numbers were but he believed that it was 20 cards per day for a canvasser and 30 per day for a team leader.
• This was an ACORN policy and it equated to about 5 cards per hour with a canvasser working 6 hours per day. One work hour was considered as travel time to get to the location and one hour to get back. That left 4 hours of collecting cards at 5 cards per hour. Six (6) hours per day for 5 days constituted the 30 hour work week for canvassers. This was all communicated to Creedon by Edwards, the Field Director, when Creedon was hired. Creedon then communicated these quotas to all of his staff when he was eventually promoted to a Political Organizer.
• Although this was an ACORN policy, it was not strictly enforced. It was generally left to the Political Organizer to deal with canvassers who failed to meet their quotas, though sometime Edwards would direct that a canvasser had to be fired for poor numbers and sometimes he would direct that a canvasser be given more time to improve. In total, Creedon believed that he only fired about 10 canvassers for failure to meet quotas and most of these were at the direction of Edwards.
• Creedon was not aware of any performance bonuses based on the number of cards submitted. He had never heard of “Blackjack” or of daily bonuses for canvassers bringing in more than 21 cards in a day. Creedon thought he heard of a bonus for canvassers bringing in over 100 cards per week, but he wasn’t sure about this.
• Creedon finally quit ACORN over the issue of quotas. He received a phone call from Edwards to give him a heads-up that ACORN had decided to fire him because his team was bringing in such low numbers. After he got the word from Edwards, Creedon decided to quit before he could be fired.
On January 29, 2009 Haynes served a grand jury subpoena on ACORN requesting documentation pertaining to the organizations policy of setting quotas for their canvassers and for documentation pertaining to the payment of the “Blackjack” bonus.
Attorney Brian Mellor
On February 24, 2009 Haynes met with Brian Mellor, Legal Counsel for ACORN. Mellor produced documentation responsive to this subpoena. During this meeting Mellor stated the following:
• In regard to “Blackjack”, Mellor stated that it was not ACORN policy to pay performance related bonuses to their staff. Mellor stated that back in 2003, ACORN engaged in a voter registration drive during which they compensated their canvassers through bonuses linked to the number of voter registration forms collected by each canvasser. This policy turned out to be a bad policy and since then, ACORN has not compensated canvassers based on performance.
• Mellor stated that when he received the subpoena identifying a “Blackjack” bonus he had no idea what this referred to. He contacted senior members of ACORN staff, Kimberly Olsen, the National Director of ACORN’S voter registration project and Amy Busefink, a Deputy/Regional Director, to see if they knew of “Blackjack.” Busefink informed him that it referred to a bonus being paid to canvassers working from the Las Vegas office of ACORN that was linked to the number of voter registration cards the canvasser collected. Specifically it was the payment of $5.00 if the canvasser collected 21 or more cards. Busefink also informed Mellor that she visited the Las Vegas office in August 2008 and saw a sign on a white board that offered this bonus to staff. She instructed the Las Vegas office director, Chris Edwards that he could not offer this bonus and she removed the signs.
• Mellor stated that the ACORN policy, training and compensation manuals address incentives such as giving awards or movie tickets for high performers, but there is no mention of paying bonuses. Mellor stated that the policy manuals do not specifically state that cash bonuses cannot be paid based on the number of voter cards collected; however this was an oversight and, when the manuals were written, Mellor did not think to specifically exclude this type of bonus. Mellor stated that he was involved in the writing of the manuals.
• Mellor stated that ACORN use an online payroll system identified as CCI OMS. The hours worked by each canvasser are documented on a written timesheet, as are any additional payments made to the canvasser. Additional payments might include gas money, bus fares or a heat allowance when it is excessively hot. The information from the timesheets is then entered into the online system by the political organizers supervising the canvassers. When a bonus is paid, there is a comments section in the payroll system that should be used to explain the reason for the bonus.
• Mellor stated that he caused payroll reports to be generated from the data in the CCI payroll system. He provided Haynes with an electronic copy of four such reports. Mellor opened one of the reports on his laptop and showed the columns titled “Incentive” and “Comments.” Mellor pointed out that some of the entries reflect the payment of “Blackjack” or “21+.”
• Mellor stated that Edwards was instructed not to pay this bonus by Busefink in August 2008. Mellor stated that the payroll entries he was producing all appeared to be for dates after Edwards was instructed not to offer this bonus. Mellor stated that he was personally unaware that Edwards was paying this bonus and that Olsen told him she was not aware of it either. Olsen went to the Las Vegas office in late September 2008 to close down the operation and she saw nothing that reflected the payment of the “Blackjack” bonus at that time.
• Mellor further stated that he was unable to provide any emails that might reflect communications about this matter because the computers used by both Busefink and Olsen crashed shortly after the election and deleted their emails. Haynes examined the 4 payroll spreadsheets produced by Mellor and noted that they covered the period July 17, 2008 through September 20, 2008. Three of the four spreadsheets reflected, in the comments section, that “Blackjack” or “21+” bonuses were paid to canvassers.
On February 25, 2009, Haynes interviewed Christopher Edwards regarding this investigation. He stated the following:
• Edwards responded to a Craig’s List advertisement for leadership positions with ACORN in January 2008. He was offered a position as the Field Director for the Las Vegas office. He attended one month’s training in Miami, but after a few days of training he was told that he would be a Political Organizer, not the Field Director.
• When Edwards arrived in the Las Vegas office, there was a Political Organizer and two community outreach organizers already on staff. In March 2008, Edwards attended a Field Director training course. Edwards was promoted to the position of Field Director on April 1, 2008. At that time he was the senior member of staff in the Las Vegas office.
• Part of the training to be a Political Organizer and Field Director included information about the standards that were set for Political Organizers and canvassers. Canvassers were required to get a minimum of 20 completed VRA forms per shift. The target was enforced flexibly, with canvassers being allowed to remain on staff if they consistently reached about 17 cards a day.
• Canvassers who failed to reach the target were placed on Ultimatum, which meant that they were told they had one more chance to meet a set target. If they failed to meet this target the canvasser was terminated. Edwards terminated or directed the termination of many canvassers for failing to meet this quota.
• The fact that quotas were in place and were enforced with termination from employment was clearly communicated to all employees, by Edwards and by his Political Organizers. All of the training literature referenced the quota and office performance was judged on the dollar cost for each card collected.
• Towards the end of July 2008, Edwards came up with the idea of offering the “Blackjack” bonus. The bonus was a payment of $5.00 for each day a canvasser submitted at least 21 completed VRA cards, with telephone numbers. Edwards was not aware that payment of bonuses based on the number of cards collected might be a violation of any law.
• Edwards openly advertised the existence of the “Blackjack” bonus to all staff. Not many actually received it. Edwards wrote the term “Blackjack” on a white board in the main office and had his Political Organizers tell all of the staff that they could earn this extra $5.00.
• ACORN promoted numerous incentive programs in all of the offices. These included Political Organizers taking high performing canvassers to lunch, offers of movie tickets or other give-a-ways. During the weekly Field Director calls between the office Field Directors and the National Director, Kimberly Olsen, the Field Directors would discuss what they were doing to motivate staff. Edwards could not recall if he specifically spoke about “Blackjack” during any of these weekly calls; but he believed he must have done because he was very proud of his office performance and frequently spoke about what he was doing to keep things running.
• Edwards recalled that he had a telephone conversation with Amy Busefink, the Regional Director for ACORN prior to her visiting the Las Vegas office in August 2008. Edwards recalled that he informed Busefink that he was offering the Blackjack bonus and what this bonus was. During that conversation Busefink told Edwards that she thought the bonus was a good idea.
• In August 2008, Busefink visited the Las Vegas office. At that time, the “Blackjack” bonus was in place and it was written on the white board. Busefink saw that the Blackjack bonus was being advertised to the canvassers and she made no comment about this. Edwards specifically stated that Busefink did not tell him to wipe or remove the whiteboard advertising Blackjack to the canvassers, nor did she tell him that he could not offer this bonus.
• At no time did any member of the management above Edwards tell him that he could not offer this bonus.
• If a canvasser earned the bonus, it was documented on their timesheet. This data was then entered into the online payroll system by the Political Organizer supervising the canvasser. In addition to entering hours and pay rate, the Political Organizer would enter bonuses and was required to document the reason for the bonus in the payroll system, in the comment section.
• Both Busefink and Olsen had access to the payroll system and could see the bonuses that were paid to canvassers. Edwards stated that there were frequent payroll issues and Busefink and Olsen emailed him many times about one problem or another. They could not have done this without looking at the payroll system and seeing the bonuses that were being paid.
• Edwards recalled receiving emails from Olsen in which she addressed the number of hours being worked by canvassers and the amount of bonuses being paid. She even included spreadsheets that showed the “Blackjack” bonus was being paid. Olsen never disputed the payment of this bonus or told Edwards not to pay this bonus.
• Edwards finally stopped offering the bonus in September 2008 because of cost overruns in his office.
On February 26, 2009, Haynes spoke with Estrada regarding the visit of Busefink to theLas Vegas office in August 2008. Estrada recalled the visit, though not the exact dates. She recalled that the “Blackjack” bonus was being offered and was documented on the whiteboard when Busefink arrived. Estrada stated that the bonus was not cancelled or the whiteboard removed when Busefink was at the office or following her visit and the “Blackjack” bonus continued to be offered.
Employees of ACORN
Between November 21, 2008 and January 16, 2009 Haynes interviewed 10 witnesses who were employed by ACORN as canvassers or Team Leaders during 2008. These witnesses included Joseph Terry, Steven Jackson, Sharon McAllister, Carl Barker, Richard Agusti, Marshea Greenwood, Debra Caldera, Ana Ramos, Kyrene Williams and Jerica Payne. All of these witnesses confirmed that they were required to meet quotas in terms of the number of VRA forms they collected each day. All of these witnesses confirmed that they were told they would be terminated from employment if they failed to meet the quota. Williams and Payne stated that they were not paid for all the hours they worked because they failed to reach this quota on at least one day. Terry, Jackson, McAllister, Barker, Agusti, Greenwood, Caldera and Ramos all confirmed that they earned the “Blackjack” bonus for collecting 21 or more completed VRA forms.
Haynes located timesheets in the computer hard drives seized from the office of ACORN and in the hard copy material seized from the office of ACORN which documented that Terry,Jackson, Barker, Agusti and Greenwood all earned bonuses identified on the timesheets as “Blackjack” or “21+” bonus.
Haynes located timesheets in the computer hard drives seized from the office of ACORN and in the hard copy material seized from the office of ACORN which reflected the earning of $5.00 bonuses that were not specifically identified as “Blackjack” or “21+” bonuses, but which the witnesses confirmed were paid for gathering 21 or more VRA forms.
From the documents produced by Mellor on behalf of ACORN in response to the subpoena served on ACORN and from the documents seized from the office of ACORN, Haynes identified additional documentation that reflected the ACORN policy of requiring canvassers to collect at least 20 VRA forms per day or be terminated from employment. These documents included the ACORN OCC manual and the job description for a Field Canvasser. Mellor also produced training manuals that he identified as being used to train new Political Organizers and Field Directors. Included with this production was a training outline, under heading “Voter Registration 101” in a paragraph titled “Standards” which stated “The minimum standards to meet your budget are 20 cards a shift. You should be telling staff the office goal is 25. People averaging less than 20 cards a shift will be fired.”
Haynes also located email communications that occurred between Olsen and Busefink, the National and Regional Directors and Edwards, the Las Vegas Field Director in which the policy of requiring canvassers to meet quotas or terminating those canvassers was discussed. An email dated Wednesday September 10, 2008 had a spreadsheet attached to it. The email identified that the payroll entries documented on the attached spreadsheet were in question. The attached spreadsheet included comments identifying the bonuses on these payroll entries as “blackjack” bonuses or “21+” bonuses. This email appeared to have originated from an email address that was identified as “Kimberley Olsen,” the ACORN National Voter Registration Director.
Throughout 2008, ACORN employed canvassers to register people to vote. ACORN paid those canvassers a flat hourly pay rate, but made continued employment, and therefore continued compensation, contingent upon the canvasser registering a specific number of voters each day. Canvassers who failed to register a specified number of voters were terminated from employment. From July 27, 2008 through October 2, 2008, ACORN also provided additional compensation, in the form of the “Blackjack” or “21+” bonus that was based upon the total number of voters a person registered. Edwards, as the Las Vegas Field Director, was responsible for implementing the payment of this bonus; however, evidence, in the form of the statements of Edwards and Estrada show that Busefink, Regional Director for ACORN, was aware that this bonus was offered.
Evidence, in the form of data entry into the national payroll system used by ACORN in which the payment of this bonus was clearly documented, also supports that Olsen, the National Director of ACORN was aware that this bonus was in place. The fact that Olsen knew that this bonus was being paid is also supported by an email with attached payroll spreadsheet sent by to Edwards in September 2008. This payroll spreadsheet identified payment of the “Blackjack” or “21+” bonus.
On May 4, 2009, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office filed a criminal complaint in Clark County charging ACORN, Edwards, and Busefink with a total of 39 counts of Compensation for Registration of Voters in violation of NRS 293.805, and 13 counts of Principal to the Crime of Compensation for Registration of Voters in violation of NRS 195.020 and NRS 293.805. Within the charging document, ACORN and Edwards were each charged with 13 counts of Compensation for Registration of Voters, and Busefink was charged with 13 counts of Principal to the Crime of Compensation for Registration of Voters.5
After the formal charges were filed, ACORN and its supporters on the Left immediately tried to spin the story their way. ACORN’s national spokesman, Scott Levenson, called the charges “grandstanding,” and told the press that ACORN had fired both employees [Busefink and Edwards] and had cooperated with investigators.6 The Left could not claim the prosecution to be part of a vast right-wing Republican plot because the prosecuting officials were, in fact, Democrats. The next head fake by the Left was to put out the story that Busefink did not work for ACORN, but for one of its subcontractors.7 8 The final dodge attempted by ACORN is that its bankruptcy and dissolution moots the criminal charges against it.9 None of these maneuvers has worked, perhaps because too many of the public know too much about ACORN and its operations.
The Pleas of Edwards and Busefink
Edwards entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in case 09C256778-1, and on August 17, 2009 pleaded guilty before District Judge Donald Moseley to a reduction of charges to 2 gross misdemeanor counts of Conspiracy to Commit Compensation for Registration of Voters. On November 23, 2009 he received a sentence of 3 years of probation with a condition that he testify truthfully against ACORN and co-defendant Amy Busefink, a $500 fine, and a requirement to perform 576 hours of community service during his probation period. Judge Moseley also ordered Edwards, who was unemployed at the time of sentencing, to get a job.10
On November 6, 2010 Busefink entered a plea bargain with prosecutors in case 09C256778-3, pursuant to which she entered an Alford (no contest) plea to a reduction in charges to 2 gross misdemeanor counts of Conspiracy to Commit Compensation for Registration of Voters. The prosecutors agreed not to seek a prison sentence and as part of the plea bargain Busefink reserved the right to appeal the constitutionality of the law under which she was prosecuted.11 On January 10, 2011, Judge Mosely sentenced Busefink to 2 years imprisonment, suspended pending successful completion of 1 year of probation, fined her $4,000 (the prosecutors had sought a fine of only $1,000), and required her to perform 100 hours of community service while on probation.12
According to Clark County court records for case number 09C256778-2, ACORN is still set for an April 25, 2011 trial on 13 felony counts of Compensation for Registration of Voters. ACORN dissolved in November 2010 after declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy,13 but is re-emerging under a variety of new identities while Project Vote continues to operate out of ACORN’s Washington D.C. headquarters.14
Those conservatives who see the prosecution of Busefink, Edwards, and ACORN as some sort of turning point in the struggle against the Left are destined to be disappointed, for this is but a small skirmish in a much wider struggle.
While newsworthy, the crimes Busefink and Edwards were charged with are not very serious in and of themselves: There never was any allegation of actual voter fraud, just illegal compensation for registering voters, and the number of counts charged was relatively small in light of the volume of voter registration forms submitted. Busefink was charged as a principal, placing her at a distance from the actual commission of the crimes she was charged with, and she was allowed to remain at large while her case was pending. When it came time to enter a plea, she was allowed to enter an Alford plea to two gross misdemeanors in lieu of 13 felonies, a “gross misdemeanor” generally being an offense that is more serious than an ordinary misdemeanor but less serious than an ordinary felony.
Busefink has no prior record, according to her attorney and other records, and received a relatively short period of twelve months of probation. If Nevada allows her to end her probation early, she could be free from supervision well before her year is up. She was also not required to testify against ACORN, which is somewhat unusual in these sorts of plea bargains. It is an open question as to whether Busefink will actually bear the burden of paying her own fine or whether Project Vote will compensate her as a cost of doing business. There is also the possibility that Busefink will prevail on appeal and the law under which she was prosecuted will be found unconstitutional, which could also spell the end for the prosecution of the ACORN corporation.
Regardless, the prosecution of Busefink does not seem to have crimped her activities or those of Project Vote. She was not demoted, fired, or otherwise sanctioned by her employer. In fact, while her charges in Nevada were pending, Busefink ran Project Vote’s 2010 national voter registration drive, apparently unencumbered by the Nevada case. While it will be somewhat a different story if the case against ACORN goes to trial and the corporation is convicted of 13 felonies, it is unlikely that any ACORN executives will go to prison or that the now-defunct corporation will be placed on probation. It is also a possibility that a plea deal will be worked out in similar fashion to the plea deals made with Edwards and Busefink. In any event, the radical progressives are unlikely to be cowed by any of this and the party will likely go on as before.
Conservatives, on the other hand, should look at this case as an example of how the Left approaches voter registration within its class warfare strategy, and should seek to better understand the laws that regulate voter registration in their communities. Conservatives should not be intimidated by voter registration drives and should not allow themselves to be manipulated into a position of appearing to unfairly deny the vote to any person qualified under the law to vote. They should also appreciate the weaknesses of a political viewpoint that seeks to divide Americans along the lines of race, sex, and income, and the incompetence of the Left to administer such large-scale programs without creating large amounts of fraud, waste, and abuse. Finally, conservative should engage in their own strategic warfare against the Left by systematically working to starve the progressive infrastructure of any taxpayer money that flows to such partisan activities.