Published on September 19th, 2016 | by Reporters Desk0
Election Crimes of the Rich and Famous
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
Greg Palast has been investigating election theft—particularly the suppression of minority voters—since the 2000 election in Florida. This year he’s back with his biggest story in his new feature length documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, out on DVD on Sept. 20.
The story is told with flair, like a noir detective tale, even featuring a speedboat approach to a billionaire’s lair, and cameo appearances by Ice-T and Richard Belzer from SVU (“Special Voters Unit”). It also has a Saturday morning cartoon flashback account of how it all started in Florida in 2000, by the animator of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
But there’s a lot more than stylish hooks to grab your attention. The story has grown deeper, broader and more complex over the years, as a new bottom line has come into focus.
“It’s not about the Republicans stealing the vote,” Palast said. “It’s about billionaires stealing the treasury.”
And, as he says in the movie, “There’s no such thing as a victimless billionaire.”
The billionaires involved start with the Koch Brothers, but there are others involved as well, most notably hedge fund manager John Paulson, who along with Goldman Sachs crashed the mortgage markets, precipitating the Great Recession. He was announced as one of the first members of Trump’s team of economic advisers.
“It’s not rednecks who don’t like colored folks, and it’s not just Republicans, so this is how they win elections,” Palast said. “Someone has to be behind it. There’s always a Mr. Big. This stuff is expensive … these programs are pushed by guys with a profit agenda.”
Uncovering that profit agenda, and its origins is a significant part of the multi-faceted mystery Palast unfolds.
“I’ve studied the Kochs for 20 years – there’s no evidence that they are prejudiced in any manner, but they’ll profit from prejudice, from bigotry,” he said.
In fact, the funder’s approach is so cold-blooded that they’ve actually got two entirely different voter databases. One database of 7.2 million names—known as the Crosscheck system—was compiled by Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach from voter registration lists in 29 states. This is without any attempt to clean it up or (ironically) to cross-check it with any other data source. It’s intentionally a messy list that’s used in an even messier manner. Kansas is the Koch’s home state base of operations. Palast tracks down hidden financial links connecting them as well.
The other database is a massive commercial file, with a wealth of information about every person in it. It is owned by i360, which the Koch’s own a piece of. It includes “trillions of data points on hundreds of millions of people,” as data analyst Mark Swedlund informs Palast. Karl Rove also had a hand in its development.
“With all that computer power,” Palast asks Swedlund. “Couldn’t the Kochs and Rove find real double voters?”
“You could do that in a heartbeat.” Swedland responds. “I would argue it would be a piece of cake.”
Compared to that, he called the Crosscheck system “incredibly simplistic” with a “childish methodology.”
In short, the Kochs already have an ideal system for rooting out actual double-voting, but instead have chosen to create a vastly inferior system, through political henchmen that produces enormous amounts of garbage misinformation. The bad data it produces is a feature, not a bug, because the whole purpose is to justify purging voters from the lists that the Kochs and their friends don’t want to see getting counted. This leads Palast to also take a look at the myriad other obstacles those unwanted voters have thrown in their way.
“They don’t want to capture double voters,” Palast concludes onscreen. “It’s just a bunch of common names.”
And why not? As the film later states, “90 percent of all Washingtons are black, 94 percent of Kims are Asian, and 91 percent of Garcias are Hispanic.”
How much garbage is in the Crosscheck list?
Palast both overwhelms us with numbers—2 million whose middle names don’t even match—and presents us with individual examples, both pulled from the lists on screen, and hunted down in their homes and churches.
One such suspected double voter showed up 14 times, Palast found.
“He’s even got his own bus to vote in several states at once,” he noted.
Once inside, he presents his evidence: here he is once as Willie May Nelson in Georgia and again as Willie J Nelson in Mississippi.
“The first time you voted as a women, is that why the pigtail thing?” Palast questions the country music legend.
“Yeah,” Nelson sheepishly agrees. “What are you grinning for, are you smoking something?”
“Aren’t you?” Nelson shoots back. “It sounds like you got better shit than I got.”
Crosscheck’s ability to generate ghost double-voters is overwhelming. At the beginning of the film, Palast watches Dick Morris’s 2014 on-air claim that more than 35,000 people had voted in North Carolina and in some other state. He made accusations that “you’re talking about probably more than a million people that voted twice in this election.” He claimed was that “the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud.”
“A million double voters? Asks Palast, incredulous. “Really, Dick? You vote twice, you get five years in the slammer.”
That’s followed up by Donald Trump’s claims of people “voting many, many times.”
“Really, Donald? A double-voting crime wave?”
Palast’s skepticism rises another octave.
“Is there really a gigantic conspiracy of one million Democrats to vote twice, or is it a massive scheme to take away the votes of a million innocent people?”
You’ll have to see the movie to get the answer in full. But Palast did share a bit of how his own thought processes evolved as he dug into it with Random Lengths. First, he pointed out that in North Carolina—a state with many other races in play beyond the presidency—Crosscheck didn’t even set off any alarm bells with activists who were suing the state for a wide range of other voting law changes.
“They left out Crosscheck, because they got such a slick presentation,” Palast said. “They thought, ‘Oh there’s nothing wrong with that,’ even though there should have been a signal raised when the voting director said we have absolute proof that 35,000 people in North Carolina voting here and in another state in 2012.
“Well, that’s a massive criminal conspiracy and no one was arrested. And, no one says, ‘That’s kind of odd, you really found this massive criminal conspiracy of felons and you didn’t bother to arrest anyone?’”
It does start to seem just a wee bit suspicious, when Palast puts it like that.
“The first statement to me in North Carolina was ‘They’re hard to find.,’” Palast continued. “I said, ‘You’ve got their addresses!’ And then when I got the sheet, I just went to their addresses, you know. ‘Hi! how many times did you vote?'”
The mystery/comedy genre was forced down his throat by circumstances.
“The funniest one I got in North Carolina was in Durham, this is very poor black neighborhood, was when this mother of a guy named Antonio Hayes,” Palast recalled. “His mother was saying screaming at him, ‘He didn’t vote twice! He didn’t vote once! My lazy son! My no good son didn’t vote once!’
“And so I looked at the record, and sure enough he didn’t vote once! That’s the funny thing in some of these records, they actually showed the vote, and they’ll say “didn’t vote.” So where’s the double voting? And then they say, ‘Well, they’re double registered they could vote.’”
Of course, a massive double-voting scheme where no one votes is even more ridiculous than their original claim, but, I did say it was mystery/comedy, didn’t I?
Stealing elections is no joke, of course. But as Palast shows, it takes all the good humor we can muster to keep fighting. Plus, the facts is that that is what reporting is supposed to be about. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.