Acorn's Long Rise and Fast Fall

The GOP's other election victory

Atlas walks the uproar back to the earliest Republican-promoted probe in Florida in 2004. Acorn at the time was riling conservatives with a campaign seeking a statewide referendum to hike the minimum wage, while registering thousands of new voters.

One of its local recruits was a Cuban-American named Mac Stuart, who presented himself as a former police officer excited about Acorn's goals. Stuart initially seemed a hard worker. He was promoted to oversee the voter-registration drive in Miami. But supervisors soured on him when he stopped delivering registration cards to the Board of Elections. When Acorn finally checked out Stuart's background, it found that not only had he never been a cop, but he had served time for armed robbery with past busts for drugs and a concealed weapon.

The rogue employee was fired. But it was already too late. Within days, he showed up at a press conference represented by Florida's most influential Republican law firm—Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler—announcing lawsuits claiming that Acorn had hidden thousands of voter registration forms. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement instantly made a rare public announcement that it was investigating. Local authorities jumped in as well.

This won headlines and Rush Limbaugh's attention. "A group that was formed in the 1970s—you may have heard of them, Acorn—is out trying to register voters two and three times, and they've been caught in the act," he trumpeted. Stuart appeared on Fox News with Bret Hume, who introduced him this way: "More troubles in Florida today for that left-wing group, Acorn."

Atlas includes the postscripts unnoted by Fox: A year later, Stuart's lawsuits were dismissed; the criminal probes also fizzled. Stuart even admitted that he had defamed Acorn with his bogus vote-fraud charges.

This year, Florida's most sensational criminal case was that of Scott Rothstein, the now disbarred GOP lawyer whose firm first embraced Stuart and promoted his phony charges. Rothstein, whose past partners included GOP mischief-maker Roger Stone, was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison for his own $1.2 billion fraud.

Oh, and that minimum-wage increase on the 2004 Florida ballot? It passed 3 to 1, upping wages by a buck and indexing them for inflation. Apparently, it was enough to make some people want to put a stop to such nonsense.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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