SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Why Wasn't This Bigger News?
In the final week before the primary, the two Democratic presidential campaigns argued over gas tax proposals likely to be irrelevant by the time a new president is sworn into office.
Then they spent last Thursday spinning reporters on the significance of polls.
Meanwhile, most of the media pack pretty much ignored revelations that a D.C.-based outfit had been zapped by state Attorney General Roy Cooper for a phone and mail campaign that sure resembled an effort to suppress black voter turnout in advance of the primary.
The group, Women's Voice Women Vote, denied that was their intent. Honest mistakes, they said.
The organization was responsible for electronic robo-calls in which a man identifying himself as "Lamont Williams" told North Carolinians that they'd soon be receiving a voter registration packet in the mail. The caller said that the listener should complete and return the forms. "Then you'll be able to vote and make your voice heard," the call concluded.
Just a couple of problems here: Some calls went to people who had already registered; the state's deadline for mail-in voter registration for this primary had already passed.
The effort also violated a North Carolina law that requires such calls to identify their source and provide contact information. So Cooper's agency ordered the group to stop the calls and demanded a bunch of information about who was doing what at the organization.
You see, besides potential civil fines for illegal robo-calls, it's a felony in North Carolina to try to intentionally suppress voter turnout.
The organization agreed that no more calls would be made, and said it would try to delay any of the 276,000 voter registration packets that hadn't already gone out.
So, just an innocent mistake? Well, the Institute for Southern Studies, a Durham-based civil rights organization, did some digging and determined that the group made similar innocent mistakes in as many as 11 other states.
The real kicker: Women's Voice Women Vote has some pretty significant ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maggie Williams, Hillary Clinton's national campaign manager, was a consultant to the group last year. Joe Goode, its executive director, is a one-time pollster for Bill Clinton.
I'm not sophisticated enough to figure out why all this isn't a bigger deal, why it wasn't front-page news across the country.
Maybe political operatives in Washington with years of campaign experience are just known to be incompetent. Maybe it's standard operating procedure for national get-out-the-vote groups to fail to read state voter registration laws, time after time. Those would be two explanations of why none of this is nefarious.
So, not being very sophisticated, I spoke with Hillary Clinton's state campaign manager, Ace Smith, to seek some clarification.
Bellicose and blustery, he denied any connection between the campaign and the get-out-the-vote (or not) group.
"If you think guilt by association is fair, let's just leave it at that," he said.
Smith and the rest of the presidential primary circus are headed out of town now. They will surely be missed.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
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