By Annette Hinkle
In this election year, Greg Palast wants you to vote…but he’s afraid it may not count — especially if you’re black, Native American or Hispanic and you live in certain states — notably Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida or New Mexico.
Palast, a former private eye, has made a name for himself by exploring cases of voter suppression in this country — beginning with the infamous 2000 presidential election in which Palm Beach County, Florida became known as the home of the hanging chad.
For Palast, the real story of that election lay not in the confusing butterfly ballot which confounded the county’s predominately wealthy Jewish voters, but in two computer disks he said were slipped to him from the office of Florida’s then Secretary of State Katherine Harris. According to Palast, those disks showed the names of 91,000 Florida felons that had been purged from the voter rolls. Most were black, says Palast, and when he checked further, he found that almost none of them were felons.
And, he adds, things have only gotten worse for voters in the years since.
A journalist by trade, Palast regularly delves into issues like the corporate funding of elections, vulture financiers, and the hidden issues behind disasters like the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the gulf. All-American issues that you would expect he writes about for one of the big U.S. dailies.
But in fact, Palast, who has a home on the North Fork, is an investigative reporter for the Guardian newspapers and BBC television in the U.K. Sounds ironic, but if you ask him, Palast will tell you in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t have a lot of respect for the “he said/she said” way in which the respected dailies on this side of the pond cover the issues.
“In Britain, I can’t report a story based on ‘he said/she said,’” says Palast. “My producer would say someone is lying. You present the facts. When I found out blacks were off the voter roles in Florida and confronted him, Catherine Harris’ henchman ripped off his mic and ran out of the interview. I chased him down the hall, he called the state troopers.”
Palast notes that while U.S. papers may write about a decline in voter registration, for example, he says they don’t get to the real reasons behind those drops.
“According to the Wall Street Journal, Hispanics don’t vote because they are disappointed in Obama,” says Palast. “But local secretaries of state have been given power to remove voter names — so Latinos are purged at a massive rate. No one is investigating the fact that one in five voters in Colorado have been removed from the roles. And you know who they are.”
In advance of the 2008 election, Palast teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to write “Steal Back Your Vote” a comic book guide detailing information Palast had gathered about voter suppression in various states along with steps citizens can take to ensure their vote is counted. The guide featured original comics by three-time Pulitzer finalist Ted Rall along with Lloyd Dangle and Lukas Ketner.
Palast notes that if voter suppression is a problem that has only grown by leaps and bounds since the “warm-up act” of 2000, it’s nothing, he says, compared to what’s coming down the pike in this year’s election.
This Friday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m., Palast and Rall will both be on the South Fork to take part in a moderated discussion at the Unitarian Universalist meetinghouse in Bridgehampton entitled “Election Games: Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.” The discussion is a benefit for Canio’s Cultural Cafe and WPKN Radio.
“We are doing two things – shamelessly flogging our recent books, Ted’s is ‘The Book of Obama: How We Got From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt’ and mine is ‘Vultures’ Picnic,’” says Palast. “ We’re also kind of teasing, the next book we’re doing together ‘Billionaires and Ballot Bandits’ a comic book for the 2012 election.”
Like the 2008 guide, Palast explains that “Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” will address the issue of voter suppression, but it also delves into what has happened in recent years that has the potential to affect the outcome of the 2012 election.
In the upcoming guide, Palast promises to share what he’s learned about the political and campaign fundraising tactics of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. He has also investigated the business practices of people like Paul Singer of Elliot Associates a firm which, Palast maintains, has a strategy of buying distressed foreign debt cheaply and selling it at a profit or suing for full payment. He writes about that too.
“The last time  it was about vote theft. This is about that too, and picking up on and working with my ‘Vultures Picnic’ investigation,” says Palast. “It’s about billionaires buying up the election. I’m talking not talking about Oprah here, but the scum of the earth. People who make billions in the midst of a recession aren’t smart. They’re scum. That’s my investigation.”
“They’re the one percenters — I want people to meet them,” says Palast. “Forget about Romney. He’s a puppet. I’m talking about the guys with their fingers in the holes.”
Changing the playing field most of all in this year’s election is the Citizens United (CU) decision of 2010. Palast notes this controversial Supreme Court ruling has opened up the way for massive influence by foreign concerns. The issue is not that corporations will now be behind political campaigns — as Palast notes, they have been for some time in the form of corporate PACs and bundling of individual contributions. Corporations can and do give loads of money to campaigns through PACs and Palast notes anyone can go through a PAC’s federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it — and those contributors must be US citizens.
But as Palast explains, what CU did was pave the way for the 501c(4) — a nonprofit corporation which operates like a charity. This, notes Palast, allows massive amounts of money to flow in to campaign coffers from unknown entities hidden behind corporate “street names” without limit.
“Unlike a Super PAC, a charity doesn’t have to say who’s donating,” explains Palast. “When we’re talking about corporate money, Obama will get most of that. But this is specifically hedge fund money. The People’s Republic of China can get an LLC in Delaware and can give unlimited funds.”
“In 2010 with Citizens United, they figured out so many loopholes to get money in, I was surprised how much it did open the flood gates,” adds Palast. “A lot of these guys want to be in your face. Paul Singer is now way out there.”
Coincidentally, by the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it will hear a Montana campaign finance case which may alter the Citizens United ruling. In the meantime, for Palast this is hardly a matter of Democrat vs. Republican or who will be the next president (he sees little difference in the two). It’s really about preserving the individual’s right to have a say in who their leaders are.
“I’m not partisan,” says Palast. “As far as I’m concerned Obama’s not qualified to be president of a dog kennel. It’s about this financial coup d’état going on, that’s what I want to expose. I’m also a big believer in counting votes.”
Palast has traveled the world in the pursuit of stories. So when it comes to elections, does he think there’s a better system out there than our own?
“There are places that work better,” says Palast. “But there’s much more vote theft than people think. In England, there’s no difference between Labor and Tory, so no one bothers to steal elections. Switzerland has clean elections, they don’t care how you vote. Because of a post-war pact, the division of power is set and doesn’t change. They vote more out of tradition.”
“Everywhere else elections are thoroughly corrupt,” he says matter-of-factly. “In places like Venezuela, you have the elite making sure the poor don’t vote. There is fraud all over the planet.”
“Election Games: Billionaires and Ballot Bandits” a benefit for Canio’s Cultural Cafe and WPKN Radio, is Friday, June 22 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse, 977 Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike in Bridgehampton. The event features a moderated discussion between Greg Palast and Ted Rall. Light refreshments follow. Admission is a tax deductible donation of $25 for the 99 percent ($25,000 for the 1 percent). Purchase by cash or check at the door or at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor and on-line at www.brownpapertickets.com. Call 725-4926 for more information.