Summary: Named for a Supreme Court Justice whose jurisprudence undermined the Constitution, the Brennan Center at New York University is best known for its attacks on efforts to stop voter fraud. The underlying principle in the work of the center and its judicial namesake is simple: the rule of law should not be allowed to interfere with the liberal agenda.
Late last year, undercover agents for New York City’s Department of Investigations showed up at 63 polling places attempting to vote. The agents posed as individuals who had died, moved out of town, or were serving prison sentences. Not one of the prospective voters was legally eligible to cast a ballot.
In 61 of these instances (97 percent), the agents were permitted to vote. In one case, a 24-year old female agent who identified herself as someone who had passed away in 2012 at the age of 87 was given a ballot with no questions asked. DOI published its findings in a 70-page report accusing the city’s Board of Elections of incompetence and lax procedures.
This investigation in the Big Apple demonstrates how easy voter fraud is to commit. Combined with countless examples of actual voter fraud, it is easy to understand why Americans are concerned about the fairness and validity of their elections.
Yet one powerful organization has waged a relentless campaign to convince the public that voter fraud is a “myth.” This group’s talking points have been accepted, echoed, and bolstered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the rest of the mainstream media. That organization is the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
The Living Constitution
William Joseph Brennan Jr. was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, shortly before that year’s presidential election. A Roman Catholic Democrat from the Northeast, Brennan appealed to Eisenhower advisers who thought he could attract critical voters in the upcoming election. Eisenhower’s attorney general, Herbert Brownell, also attended a speech given by Brennan. The talk convinced Brownell that Brennan was a conservative, especially concerning criminal matters. He was deeply mistaken.
The late Justice Brennan served on the United States Supreme Court from 1956 to 1990. He wrote 461 majority opinions, 425 dissents, and 474 other opinions during his 34 years on the Court, the seventh-longest tenure in its history. Known for his left-wing views, Brennan was a consistent opponent of the death penalty and an advocate for legalized abortion.
Brennan is widely regarded as one of the most influential, controversial, and radical justices in the history of the high court. A critical 1984 article in National Review stated “there is no individual in this country, on or off the Court, who has had a more profound and sustained impact upon public policy in the United States.” Justice Antonin Scalia described Brennan as “probably the most influential Justice of the [20th] century.”
Unfortunately, this influence was disastrous for the country. Justice Brennan was the intellectual father of modern judicial activism and the architect of the concept of a “living Constitution.” He believed that the “genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs.” In other words, Justice Brennan viewed the United States Constitution as a malleable document that could be used to justify anything that promoted his liberal desires.
Today, Brennan’s view dominates judicial thinking on the Left. Democrats now resist the appointment of any judge to the federal bench who fails to adhere to Justice Brennan’s philosophy.
“He has people skills to a high degree” said Justice Scalia of Brennan. It was this personal charm as well as Brennan’s liberal beliefs that inspired many of his former clerks to have tremendous affection for him. Joshua Rosenkranz served as the Brennan Center’s founding president and CEO. He recalls that Brennan’s clerks made it clear that they “absolutely adore him, would put ourselves on the railroad tracks for him” at their reunions. After Brennan retired from the Court in 1990, his clerks sought to memorialize him. Rosenkranz instead pushed the idea of creating an organization that would actively promote Brennan’s legal agenda.
With the endorsement and approval of Justice Brennan himself, the Brennan Center was born in late 1995. The Carnegie Corporation (a nonprofit foundation) provided an initial grant of $25,000 to help the organization get started. According to Brennan’s daughter Nancy, this grant provided “credibility and cachet” and attracted the attention of George Soros and other leftist benefactors. Rosenkranz has stated that “the Brennan Center might not even be there had it not been for that initial bet.”
In the summer 2008 issue of its newsletter, Carnegie Results, the foundation bragged that the Brennan Center “is now a nationally recognized powerhouse for research and activism in the fields of campaign finance and election reform, voting rights and combating special interests in judicial elections. Its efforts, in concert with activist groups throughout the nation, have been felt from city and state legislatures to Congress and in court cases up to the Supreme Court.”
Undermining the Electoral Process
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law describes itself as “a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice.” It purports to “work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all.” However, closer examination of the Center’s activities shows the organization to be neither nonpartisan nor just.
Through legislative proposals, scholarly studies, and activist litigation, the Center seeks to implement “meaningful, measurable change in the systems by which our nation is governed.” The fact that the changes it advocates would advance the Center’s leftist agenda goes unstated.
The Center’s website explains that its “work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal laws to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism.” Although it pursues a left-wing agenda in all of these areas, this part of the Center’s agenda is overshadowed by its attempts to destroy the credibility of American elections. Former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams calls the Brennan Center “one of the most dishonest and aggressive voter fraud deniers.”
In the October 2011 Organization Trends, Adams identified the Brennan Center as part of “the Left’s army of election law ‘experts.’”
Leftists dominate the field of election law. Like so many other institutions, from academia to foundation philanthropy to the media “experts” who cover every corner of our electoral system, they have financial sponsors who understand that there are battles to be fought over election law and voting systems long before voters cast their ballots. The dominance of the Left affects both the outcome and the integrity of elections, and the future course of the nation. Conservatives can find plenty of money for issue advertisements, get-out-the-vote drives, and independent expenditure campaigns. But if the battle over the rules of the game isn’t engaged months and years in advance, all that ground-game money can go to waste.
These anti-electoral integrity crusaders are paid salaries by dozens of well-funded nonprofit legal and policy advocacy groups, including the Brennan Center, ACORN-affiliated Project Vote, Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Common Cause, Demos, League of Women Voters, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, according to Adams.
“These and other groups often work against conservative candidates and the rule of law by attacking election rules and procedures,” Adams wrote.
Challenging Voter ID Laws
The Brennan Center’s assault on the legitimacy of the electoral process began with the publication of Citizens Without Proof in 2006. This widely cited report concluded that voter ID laws disenfranchise millions of minority, elderly, and low-income voters because members of these groups are less likely to have government-issued photo identification. The report has been repeatedly parroted by opponents of voter ID laws and mainstream media outlets who ridicule measures to ensure electoral integrity.
Yet in their 2011 Heritage Foundation report Without Proof: The Unpersuasive Case Against Voter Identification, Hans von Spakovsky and Alex Ingram demonstrate that the Brennan Center’s claim that many Americans are prevented from voting because they lack proper identification is not supported by credible studies of voter turnout rates. Further, the Heritage study shows that Citizens Without Proof is riddled with poor data collection and biased questions.
Based exclusively on a survey of 987 “voting age American citizens,” Citizens Without Proof provides no explanation for how the survey confirmed that each participant was actually a U.S. citizen. The study also failed to ask respondents if they were actual or likely voters, registered voters, or even legally eligible to vote.
The survey questions used in the Brennan Center’s report seem to be designed to support the report’s biased findings. Notably, the survey did not inquire if participants possessed government-issued IDs, but instead asked respondents whether they had “readily available identification.” This phrase is ambiguous and is open to varying interpretations, seriously damaging the credibility of the report’s conclusions.
One of the study’s footnotes reveals that 135 respondents indicated that they had both a U.S. birth certificate and U.S. naturalization papers. This means that close to 14 percent of survey participants provided contradictory answers.
Another footnote admits that “the survey did not yield statistically significant results for differential rates of possession of citizenship documents by race, age, or other identified demographic factors.” This finding exposes as false the allegations made by voter ID opponents that such laws will disenfranchise minorities, older voters, and the poor.
Moreover, several states designate college student ID cards as an acceptable form of identification for voting, but the study neglected to ask respondents if they possessed a student ID card. Researchers also failed to ask participants if they had a tribal ID, even though states including Arizona and Georgia declare tribal ID cards to be valid for the purpose of voting. Military and government IDs also meet voter ID requirements in most states, but were not included in the survey’s questions.
Still, other studies have contradicted the Center’s findings. A study conducted by the University of Delaware’s Jason Mycoff and David C. Wilson and the University of Nebraska’s Michael W. Wagner found that voter ID laws did not affect voter turnout. The University of Missouri’s Jeffrey Milyo discovered that after voters were required to produce IDs, turnout actually increased in districts with a majority of Democratic voters. An American University survey found that under 0.5 percent of registered voters lacked photo IDs; this study was conducted by Dr. Robert Pastor, a senior advisor to President Jimmy Carter.
Voter Fraud: A Myth?
In a 2006 decision upholding a voter ID law in Arizona, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court declared that “confidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy. Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised.”
Most Americans agree that policies that increase the potential for fraud undermine the legitimacy of elections and public confidence in them. They support the implementation of strong measures to secure the integrity of the electoral process and safeguard the validity of election results, including voter ID requirements.
The Brennan Center disagrees. Its November 2007 report, The Truth About Voter Fraud, claims that “allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated … on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”
Yet only five months earlier, in United States v. Ike Brown, a federal district court in Mississippi documented numerous incidents of voter fraud, including voter impersonation. This is exactly the type of voter fraud whose existence the Brennan Center denies.
Election Fraud Elects a U.S. Senator?
Voter fraud almost certainly affected the results of an extremely close U.S. Senate contest in Minnesota. Minnesota electoral districts had been required to check the number of ballots they issued and match them up with the number of ballots cast to ensure an accurate vote count. But when Mark Ritchie was elected as Minnesota’s Secretary of State in 2006, he dismantled this state ballot reconciliation program.
Two years later, Democrat Al Franken initially appeared to have lost his quest to win Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman, whose margin of victory hours after the polls closed was 725 votes. The figure got whittled down further and the narrow margin triggered an automatic recount, while Franken refused to concede. With former community organizer Ritchie presiding over the recount process, Coleman’s slowly shrinking lead gradually vanished as newly discovered votes consistently benefitted Franken. By the time the recount and a court challenge by Coleman had ended in April 2009, Franken had won the race by 312 votes.
Former Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer was “absolutely sure” that Ritchie’s elimination of voting regulations was responsible for Franken’s win. She noted that 17,000 more ballots were cast than there were voters who voted, but no means were available to establish what went wrong. Dan McGrath and Jeff Davis of the watchdog group Minnesota Majority cross-checked voting records with criminals and concluded that Franken’s slim margin of victory was directly attributable to Ritchie’s dismantling of election rules. McGrath and Davis concluded that some 1,400 convicted felons, mostly residing in heavily Democratic areas, illegally voted in the race. This margin was much greater than Franken’s official margin of victory over Senator Coleman.
Voter Fraud Across the United States
Examples of voter fraud are endless and have taken place in every state. Here are just a few cases which illustrate the extent of the problem:
Iowa, February 2014: Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation referred more than 80 cases of voter fraud to county attorneys for potential prosecution. Since the investigation was initiated by GOP Secretary of State Matt Schultz a year and a half earlier, five individuals had pleaded guilty to voter fraud and 15 others faced charges.
Ohio, February 2013: The Hamilton County Board of Elections investigated 19 possible cases of voter fraud that occurred when Ohio was a critical battleground state in the 2012 presidential election. Community organizer Melowese Richardson admitted to Cincinnati’s Channel 9 in a surprisingly defiant tone that she voted twice in that election. An investigation showed that her granddaughter, India Richardson, also voted more than once in the same election.
Virginia, October 2012: The son of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was caught on camera advising an undercover reporter on how to commit voter fraud by forging utility bills to satisfy Virginia’s voter ID law.
Kentucky, July 2012: The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky prosecuted a voter fraud case involving drug dealers selling and exchanging marijuana and cocaine in order to manipulate the outcome of local elections. The defendants were accused of having spent nearly $400,000 to buy votes at $50 each.
Pennsylvania, July 2012: City Commissioner Al Schmidt issued a 27-page report on voting irregularities he discovered in a sample of Philadelphia precincts during that year’s primary. Although it looked at only 1 percent of the city’s 1,687 districts, the report identified 23 people who voted even though they were not registered, as well as instances of double voting, voter impersonation, and voting by non-citizens.
Texas, July 2012: Testimony in a lawsuit that the state of Texas filed against the U.S. Department of Justice for blocking the state’s voter ID program revealed that more than 50,000 registered voters in the state were dead. The state showed that it could prove at least 239 of these people voted in the May 2012 election, 213 of them in person. A state senator testified that his long-deceased grandfather was among those recorded as having voted. The Texas State Attorney General’s office had reported 50 election fraud convictions since 2002 and promised that the prosecutions would continue.
New York, December 2011: Four Democratic officials and political operatives pleaded guilty to voter fraud-related felony charges in a case in which numerous signatures were forged on absentee ballots in the 2009 Working Families Party primary. That party is an outgrowth of the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which itself was infamous for committing voter fraud and other violations of election law.
Colorado, May 2011: Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler testified before the U.S. House Administration Committee about a study his department conducted which showed that 12,000 illegal aliens in his state were registered to vote, and that 5,000 of them actually cast ballots in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race in 2010.
These stories illustrate the reality of a national voter fraud problem and expose the Brennan Center’s claim that voter fraud is imaginary.
Beyond Election Fraud
Regrettably, The Brennan Center’s pernicious influence on American life has not been limited to voting issues. Closely related to the issue of voting integrity are campaign finance issues. The Brennan Center wants to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which struck down a ban on corporations and labor unions using money from their general funds to produce and air independent ads in congressional and presidential races. The Center cares little that such a ban clearly violates the First Amendment.
As part of its Justice program, the Brennan Center claims to fight racial profiling. Yet the Brennan Center wrote an amicus brief in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), defending a Seattle program that racially profiled high school students for enrollment purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the Center’s position and held that the program was unconstitutional.
The Brennan Center seeks to manipulate the composition of the judiciary through social engineering. It claims that white males are overrepresented among appellate judges by a two to one margin, while other demographic groups are underrepresented when compared to their share of the nation’s population. It insists a “fair, independent bench” can be achieved only by increasing “judicial diversity.” The Center also supports filibuster reform in the U.S. Senate to “end government dysfunction and gridlock,” as well as a race-based redistricting process to ensure that more members of minority communities are represented in Congress and state legislatures.
The Center’s Liberty & National Security Program condemned post-9/11 policies which aimed to protect the country from terrorism. The Brennan Center has challenged the government’s military detention of “enemy combatants” within the United States (Al-Marri v. Wright, 2007). It has also submitted amicus briefs in several cases on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees and has opposed the use of military tribunals to try terrorism suspects, arguing the tribunals deprived the accused of due process.
The Brennan Center says it “assists cities, states and community groups across the United States in enacting and defending new laws to bring living wages and health benefits to working families.” It does not seem to consider the fact that these laws often lead to increased unemployment among the very people the Center wants to help
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU is currently headed by Michael Waldman, who served as director of speech writing for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999. Previously he was special assistant to the president for policy coordination from 1993 to 1995. In this role he was the top White House policy aide on campaign finance reform and claims credit for drafting the Clinton administration’s public financing proposal.
As director of its Democracy Program, Wendy Weiser leads the Brennan Center’s crusade to deny voter fraud. She also serves as an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law. Before joining the Brennan Center, she was a senior attorney for the radical National Organization for Women (NOW) Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Patricia Bauman serves as co-chair of the Brennan Center. Bauman also serves as president and co-director of the Bauman Family Foundation, which contributed a total of $982,500 to the Brennan Center from 2006 to 2012. Bauman is the daughter of Lionel Bauman, the foundation’s founder. She has been president and co-director of the Bauman Family Foundation since its formation in 1987.
Bauman also serves as a board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In addition to her professional role in funding left-wing causes and groups, she has personally made contributions to countless liberal politicians, including Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Tom Harkin, and Barack Obama. She has also made personal contributions to radical groups like EMILY’s List and the Sierra Club.
Bauman and fellow Brennan board member Gail Furman are also “partners” of the Democracy Alliance. The Democracy Alliance is a secretive collaborative of super-rich donors seeking to fund a permanent left-wing political infrastructure of nonprofit think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups to compete with the conservative movement. Its members meet twice a year to select causes to fund.
The Brennan Center’s close ties to the Bauman Foundation reveal that its goals are not politically neutral, aimed simply at “good government” or “fair play.” Patricia Bauman and the Bauman Family Foundation make their political intentions clear by the other grantees they support, which not only are not politically neutral but are powerfully engaged in voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts for left-wing candidates.
Such grantees include, according to the Bauman Foundation’s most recent available tax filing, the National Council of La Raza’s Voter Engagement Project ($125,000 [this figure and those that follow are for the foundation’s 2012 fiscal year only]); TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund, which fights voter ID laws and works to enfranchise felons ($40,000); the Tides Foundation’s Voter Action Fund ($500,000); Voter Participation Center ($225,000); and Working America Education Fund, an AFL-CIO front group that “reach[es] out through door-to-door canvassing and online, as well as by phone and mail” to persuade voters on such issues as “the value of paid sick days in Denver and the benefits of raising the minimum wage in New Mexico” ($225,000).
The Brennan Center’s 30-member advisory program advisory board features actor Alec Baldwin and political commentator Arianna Huffington. The Alec Baldwin Foundation has given $25,000 to the Brennan Center for Justice since 2006.
Finances and Grants
According to the most recent publicly available tax filings with the IRS, the William J. Brennan Center For Justice Inc. had total revenue of $10,182,541 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. Total expenses were $7,639,970 of which $5,448,943 was spent on salary, other compensation and employee benefits. The organization employs 35 full-time staff, including attorneys, social scientists, researchers, and publicists.
The Center says it spent $5,890,248 on program service accomplishments which it describes as “the study and solving of intractable problems of social justice and implementing those solutions by coordinating strategies.”
The Center paid Michael Waldman $287,932 in base compensation, $11,517 in retirement and other deferred compensation, and $23,194 in nontaxable benefits, adding up to total compensation of $322,643. Wendy Weiser, director of the Center’s Democracy Program, was paid $139,846 in base compensation, $5,594 in retirement and other deferred compensation, and $11,932 in nontaxable benefits, for total compensation of $157,372.
Leftist mega-donor George Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI) has been the Brennan Center’s largest funder. From 2005 to 2009, OSI gave $4,571,000 to BCJ.
Philanthropy databases show that the Brennan Center is also funded by an array of left-wing foundations. From 2003 to 2011, the Tides Foundation contributed $2,753,242. In October 2011, former Tides CEO Melissa L. Bradley stated in a blog post that Tides supported the violent Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement “represents the best of American ideals and ingenuity,” she wrote.
From 2002 to 2007, the JEHT Foundation gave $1,017,500. JEHT’s support likely ended only because the foundation lost the bulk of its endowment in the illegal Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff; the philanthropy ended all grant making in 2008. From 1998 to 2002, when Barack Obama served on the board, the Joyce Foundation of Chicago donated $1,015,000.
The Brennan Center for Justice continues to advance the liberal agenda pursued by Justice William Brennan during his time on the Supreme Court. In that sense, the Center’s work serves as a fitting tribute to the man who inspired its creation. Nonetheless, it is far from certain whether even Brennan would approve of the Brennan Center’s war on honest elections. Voter fraud poses an immediate and growing danger to the legitimacy of American self-government. By devoting its resources to opposing attempts to fight voter fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice exposes as a charade its assertions that it is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of democracy and equal justice for all.
Alexander J. Kroll is a freelance writer and consultant currently based in Washington, D.C. His professional achievements include the creation of successful fundraising campaigns for historical museums and conservative advocacy organizations. A veteran of political campaigns across the United States, Alexander earned his B.A. in economics from the University of Illinois and his J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.