HARRISBURG - A former employee of an affiliate of ACORN testified yesterday that the community group now in the national spotlight knew that most new voter registration forms it had gathered were fraudulent.
"Forty percent was OK," said Anita Moncrief, referring to the number of bona fide registrations that officials at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now believed was acceptable.
Moncrief was the star witness yesterday in a Commonwealth Court case brought by the state Republican Party and others who are asking a judge to step in and prevent voter fraud on Election Day.
For nearly two hours, Moncrief, 29, gave a scathing, though at times vague, assessment of ACORN and its efforts to go into battleground states and help mostly minorities and the poor register to vote for the first time.
The group, she said, barely trained its workers in how to register voters properly, and would fire employees if they did not meet a quota of 20 new voter applicants daily. And, if they were caught committing fraud, the group "threw them under the bus" as scapegoats to take all the legal blame, Moncrief said.
Moncrief said she worked as a development associate for Project Vote in Washington from 2005 until early this year, but that the group was so closely aligned with its sister organization, ACORN, that they were one and the same.
Moncrief was fired in January after using a Project Vote credit card to pay for personal items. On the stand, she acknowledged the incident and called it "a bad mistake." She is unemployed after short stints in two jobs since she was fired.
Nationwide, ACORN has helped 1.3 million people register to vote this election cycle. That includes about 140,000 new registrants in Pennsylvania.
Many of them have been flagged by election officials across the state as illegitimate because they were already registered, gave wrong names, or provided incorrect addresses.
Plaintiffs are asking the court to, among other things, prohibit ACORN and its affiliates from further contacting those that the groups signed up in Pennsylvania as well as to force the groups to fund public-service announcements to inform new voters that they need to bring identification to the polling place.
The suit also asks the court to order ACORN and affiliates including Project Vote to release a list of all voters registered in the latest drive.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, after hearing seven hours of testimony yesterday, said he hopes to rule on the matter today..
On cross-examination by ACORN lawyer Katheryn Simpson, Moncrief, who lives in Virginia, acknowledged that she had never worked on the registration drive in Pennsylvania, but said she was privy to national briefings on the subject.
Two ACORN officials from Pennsylvania took the stand after Moncrief and insisted that the group has policies in place to train new employees and to spot and flag applications that appear to be fraudulent.
Carol Hemingway, president of ACORN's Philadelphia chapter, yesterday called the suit a media stunt "to create voter-fraud hysteria and create a preemptive strategy to de-legitimize results of the upcoming election."
In a national conference call with reporters, former U.S. Sen. Jack Danforth, cochair of Honest and Open Election Committee for McCain-Palin 2008, seized on Moncrief's testimony as proof that ACORN's massive voter drive was "a high-volume, low-quality operation."
"We believe the quota system and the threat of firings induced the turning in or filing of phony names," Danforth said.
Moncrief also testified that, in November 2007, she was given a massive database of Barack Obama donors who had already reached the maximum that they are allowed to give to the Democratic presidential nominee. Her task was to cull it for potential donors who, though prohibited from giving any more to Obama, could give to ACORN.
Moncrief said that she received the database from her supervisor and that the person insisted the Obama campaign had provided it.
Obama has said that ACORN has played no role in his presidential campaign.
Project Vote national spokesman Michael McDunnah denied that the list came from the Democratic nominee or his campaign, and tried to discredit Moncrief.
"This is a low-level administrative assistant who was fired for stealing," he said.
Moncrief also testified about an effort she called "muscle for the money" in which ACORN would, for a price, organize protests against corporations on behalf of clients such as unions.
H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Sherwin Williams were among the companies targeted for protest in recent years, she said. Some of the corporations, she added, wound up donating money to the sponsoring groups to end the protests. She said some in the Project Vote office in Washington sarcastically referred to such payments as "protection" money.