Member of Trump's Voter Commission Demands More Transparency

by | October 23, 2017

By Colin Woodard

The Maine member of President Trump's voter fraud commission has written a pointed letter to its executive director, demanding he be given documents and kept informed about the group's activities and charging that there is "a vacuum of information."

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the 12-person commission, sent the letter Tuesday after learning from a reporter that a commission staffer had been arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.

Dunlap said he had not only not known ahead of time about the arrest last week of researcher Ronald Williams II but he was not even aware he had been hired -- or that the commission had any staff members apart from its executive director, Andrew Kossack. Williams, whose employment has been terminated, faces 11 counts of possession and distribution of child pornography, officials told The Washington Post.

"It is rather frustrating to me as a Commissioner that intelligence of this development was presented to me in the form of a text message from a journalist," Dunlap wrote.

Dunlap charged that he and other commissioners are being kept in the dark about ongoing policy development and actions, said he has "received utterly no information or updates" of any kind since the commission's last meeting Sept. 12 and does not know whether another meeting was planned.

"It has been made manifestly clear that there is information about this commission being created and shared among a number of parties though apparently not universally," he wrote.

Dunlap demanded that he be given copies of all correspondence and documents circulated among commission members, staff and other government officials since the creation of the commission May 11. He cited the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and a separate federal circuit court ruling in making his request.

Neither Dunlap nor Kossack immediately responded to request for comment.

Dunlap -- who has been criticized by fellow Democrats for participating in the voter fraud commission -- has emerged as one of the panel's most vocal critics since the Sept. 12 meeting at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. At that meeting, he said Commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach's suggestion that thousands of people had acted illegally when they registered to vote in New Hampshire using out-of-state licenses was a "reckless statement to make" and factually untrue. Under New Hampshire law, one can register to vote at their place of domicile -- a college dormitory for instance -- without obtaining a state driver's license.

Dunlap has also expressed exasperation with recent revelations that two Republican members of the commission -- voter fraud activists Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams -- were closely involved in drafting a controversial request for detailed voter information sent to all 50 states, even though they were at the time not yet members of the commission. By contrast, Dunlap was unaware of the letter's content prior to it being sent, an action taken without deliberation or approval by the commissioners, who appear to have no actual powers.

The involvement of von Spakovsky and Adams -- first reported by ProPublica -- was revealed in emails the commission was forced to release on a judge's order in connection with a suit by a public interest nonprofit, the Campaign Legal Center.

Williams, the staffer arrested and charged with possession of child pornography, previously worked as an intern for Adams in President George W. Bush's Justice Department, where he helped Adams use the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect white voters for the first time, ProPublica reported.

Before joining the commission, von Spakovsky also advised cabinet officials not to appoint any Democrats or moderate Republicans to the commission, saying they would obstruct its investigations.

"Von Spakovsky has a profound influence on this commission," Dunlap told ProPublica Tuesday. "I never expected to be at the head of the table, but I'm not even sure I'm sitting at the table."

The commission -- set up by Trump to probe his evidence-free claims that millions of illegal voters had cost him the popular vote in 2016 -- is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. At the group's two meetings to date, Pence and Kobach have made it clear that the body will focus almost entirely on voter fraud, a problem numerous studies and probes by administrations of both parties have shown is extremely rare, and will not address the systematic intrusion of state election infrastructure by Russia, a problem Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, has been especially vocal about.

A 2011 voter fraud probe in Maine by Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers found just one instance of fraud. Nationally, numerous voter fraud investigations have concluded the problem is vanishingly small, with one study by Loyola Law School, Los Angeles professor Justin Levitt finding just 31 credible allegations of identity fraud in all primary, general, special and municipal elections between 2000 and 2014, despite over a billion votes being cast.

Dunlap has said he has joined the commission with an open mind and will act as a whistleblower if it engages in partisan shenanigans, but has become much more critical of the body's approach over the past month, saying many of his colleagues appear to define "voter fraud" to include legitimate voting by people they don't want to see vote, like college students.

The commission also is accused of using private email accounts to conduct official business, a possible violation of federal public records laws.

(c)2017 Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)