I’ve never knowingly voted for a Republican candidate for anything, though it’s possible that in my younger, hazier years, I cast the errant ballot or two for a conservative school board candidate or judge whose affiliation I hadn’t bothered to research. Like a good Democrat, I voted for Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Clinton, Gore and Kerry, over the course of my career as a voting citizen. I’m a huge fan of Barack Obama, and hope to vote for him twice.
All of which to explain how difficult it is, how calamitous to my psyche and disruptive to my inner sense of self, to find myself speaking out in defense of a Republican operative days before a presidential election.
I read the news of the October 18 arrest of Mark Jacoby shortly after returning from a trip to Seattle to visit a friend. Jacoby, owner of the GOP-contracted voter-registration firm Young Political Majors, or YPM, was in the news quite a bit prior to being scooped up by Ontario police: Numerous media outlets had reported that he and his workers were under investigation for allegedly switching voters’ party affiliations from Democrat to Republican on their registration cards, and for “slamming”—telling voters that to sign their names on this or that hot-button petition, they had to register as Republicans.
So when I saw the October 19 headline in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, “Police arrest man in voter fraud case,” my first reaction was to think, “Wow, I guess the reports were true.”
But something had happened during my Seattle trip that caused me to take a closer look at the story: Over breakfast one morning, my friend and I had a heated, finger-jabbing argument over voter-registration fraud allegations against the group ACORN. The friend, a Libertarian, insisted that ACORN was a criminal organization and a real threat to the principles of democracy. I insisted that Republican activists were blowing the whole registration fraud issue wildly out of proportion in an effort to suppress voter turnout.
Now, days later, was an article about a registration fraud case serious enough and real enough to result in a high-profile arrest. I read further. Three details in the P-E story and others leapt out as peculiar: The first was the fact that Jacoby wasn’t arrested in connection with the allegations against YPM: He was arrested at La Quinta Hotel and Suites in Ontario for allegedly lying about his home address when he registered to vote on two separate occasions. Jacoby had listed his parents’ address as his primary residence, when in fact, authorities say, he lived somewhere else.
The second peculiarity was the severity of the charges against him over a residency issue: Four felony counts—two for false registration and two for perjury.
The third was the level of police force used to apprehend a man accused of nothing more than putting his childhood address on a registration form: Seven Ontario Police squad cars carrying nine officers, plus two “state investigators” for good measure. I’ve personally seen police responses to shootouts that were less intensive.
And so, because I had argued with a friend, and because the Jacoby story on its face stunk to heaven, and because I was working on a nebulous election “color” story anyway, I started making calls. After about ten of them, I contacted my editor and told him that, days before the most contentious presidential election in my lifetime, I, a lifelong Democrat, had to write in defense of a Republican operative.
Fuck you, Robert.
“I’m a Democrat, and I look at the charges against my client as being baseless,” says Dan Goldfine, Jacoby’s Arizona-based attorney and the only lawyer I’ve ever interviewed who felt the need to identify his party affiliation. “Mr. Jacoby has for months been cooperating with the [California] Secretary of State’s office on various issues—they have his phone number. To send seven squad cars to arrest somebody for allegedly not putting the right address on a voter-registration card is suspicious, to say the least.”
Goldfine was reluctant to say whether he thought the case against his client was politically motivated: “I’ll leave the politics to wiser people,” he says.
Hector Barajas, communications director for the California Republican Party in Sacramento, has no such qualms.
“I think the arrest was connected to the ACORN scandal,” he says. “Look at the chain of events: You’ve got the exploding ACORN story, then you’ve got the Democrats suddenly investigating YPM. You’ve got nine police officers and two investigators from the Secretary of State’s office arresting Jacoby on October 18, two days before the end of registration in a county that’s being contested by both Republicans and Democrats. He’s held for 19 hours and released on $50,000 bail on Sunday. The same day, you’ve got Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat, issuing a press release on the arrest, followed by a press conference talking about voter-registration fraud. The next day, you have [California Democratic Party Chairman] Art Torres talking about YPM’s voter registration and the arrest as if the two were connected, but they’re not.”
It would be easy to dismiss Barajas’ comments as just more politically-charged rhetoric made in the heat of an election. But the facts appear to support his statement.
YPM has operated in California for years, but never seemed a cause of great concern for Secretary Bowen until after the ACORN scandal erupted, and, even more curious, a month after Chairman Torres called for YPM to be investigated. Bowen, a Democrat, really did initiate the investigation, with more than a little prodding by the California Democratic Party. Bowen and Torres really did issue public statements October 19 and 20, strongly suggesting Jacoby’s arrest was related to the unproven allegations against YPM.
“We know that the firm [YPM] hired by the California Republican Party has been fraudulently registering voters not only in Los Angeles County, which issued the warrant for the firm owner’s arrest, but also in San Bernardino, Ventura, Riverside, and Fresno counties,” Torres states in his press release. “How widespread is the voter fraud? How many voters were duped into switching their registration?”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for Jacoby’s arrest on October 3, but he wasn’t arrested until October 18. Ontario Police officials say they arrested him the same day they were approached by L.A. prosecutors with the warrant. Why, then, was Jacoby considered safe enough to leave at large for 15 days, then, two days before an important political deadline, suddenly considered dangerous enough to warrant so heavy-handed an arrest?
“The reasons why there were several officers assigned to the arrest was because Mr. Jacoby had rented several rooms and wanted to make sure that no one slipped out of one of those doors until the arrest was made,” explains Ontario Police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Higby.
In other words, police were afraid the high-profile political contractor might make a run for it.
Asked to comment on Barajas’ remarks, Jennifer Lentz Snyder of the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division laughs out loud, as if the very idea of a GOP contractor being arrested for political reasons 17 days before a presidential election is insane.
“I have absolutely no idea, nor do any of my colleagues, of anybody’s political affiliation,” says Snyder, the assistant head deputy of the Public Integrity Division who wants us to believe her office could investigate the voter-registration card of a Republican contractor and not know to which party the contractor is affiliated.
Snyder points out, as does Bob Mulholland of the California Democratic Party, that the head of the Public Integrity Unit, Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley, is a Republican. Because, obviously, a Republican D.A. in Los Angeles doesn’t need Democrats to get anything done. Nevertheless, both Bowen in her press statement and San Bernardino Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Robb in Torres’ publicly thanked Cooley for Jacoby’s arrest.
Bowen spokeswoman Kate Fulmar also pointed out that Cooley was a Republican, before admitting that it was a Democrat, Bowen, who launched the investigation into Jacoby.
“But it’s up to a prosecutor to decide what prosecution will be implemented,” Fulmar says. “The Secretary of State’s office will continue to honor the investigation. The office’s fraud unit pursues all allegations of fraud, regardless of the political affiliation of the subject.
Mulholland, to whom I was transferred when I called California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento and asked for Torres, sees no problem in the conflation of Jacoby’s arrest and the allegations against YPM. The two, he says, are inexorably linked.
“My advice to the Republicans is, one, they better get a good lawyer before [Jacoby] starts singing, and, two, it’s not smart to attack a Republican district attorney,” he says. “Every time a Republican gets arrested, they start saying it’s politically motivated. The motivation here was the D.A. decided a Republican committed registration fraud.
“Let’s say a guy steals a car: They catch him, but the charge is not having a driver’s license,” he continues. “Are they connected? Absolutely. Mark Jacoby was an illegal registered voter. He ran a criminal activity for the California Republican Party. Let them defend him.”
Right here, after setting the phone down from my conversation with Mulholland, is when I decided to write this article. I’m a lifelong Democrat for a reason—I love my party. I believe we’re right most of the time about most of the right issues. I suspect that YPM really did commit at least some of the wrongs it’s alleged to have committed—that type of thing fits into my worldview of right-wing politics and the Republican Party.
But Mulholland, a smart guy and a good Democrat, is dead wrong. YPM hasn’t been convicted of anything, and to suggest Jacoby’s arrest implies that it has—while at the same time ignoring the suspiciousness of the circumstances surrounding the arrest—is ceding too much of the moral ground that separates us from the other guys.