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The Brennan Center for Justice (Brennan Center) is an American non-profit legal advocacy group. Describing itself as “part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group,” the Brennan Center operates out of the New York University School of Law. The Brennan Center primarily works on voting rights, national security and creating a “living constitution.” Much of the Brennan Center’s work focuses on elections and voting rights. A staunch opponent of voter integrity measures, the Brennan Center has received millions of dollars from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Critics charge that the Brennan Center is wrought with liberal bias and that many of its reports are flawed.
History / Mission
The Brennan Center describes itself as “a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism.”
Named after the late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, a noted liberal, the Brennan Center employs dozens of attorneys, researchers and media staff to carry out its mission. The Brennan Center was founded in 1995.
According to the Brennan Center website, “[t]he Democracy Program seeks to change the ways in which citizens participate in their government by fixing the systems that discourage voting, hinder competition and promote the interests of the few over the rights of the many.”
Voting Rights & Elections
Perhaps the Brennan Center’s most visible work relates to American elections. The Brennan Center is a staunch opponent of voter integrity measures and a harsh critic of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen’s Uniteddecision. The Brennan Center website has a dedicated section regarding the 2012 elections, where it claims, “[t]his year’s election is beset by challenges to the integrity of our democracy. Millions of eligible Americans may find it harder to vote because of new restrictions. Simultaneously, super PACs are spending tens of millions of dollars to influence the candidates — and the outcome of elections. The Brennan Center is fighting these threats.”
In November 2006, the Brennan Center issued “Citizens Without Proof.” This widely-cited report reached the conclusion that voter ID measures disfranchise millions of minority, elderly and low-income voters since those voting blocs are less likely to possess a government-issued photo identification. The report is often cited by voter ID opponents and mainstream media outlets who seek to denigrate voter integrity measures.
In its major report on voter ID measures, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) relied heavily on Brennan Center work and specifically its “Citizens Without Proof Report.” And in July 2012, Politifact – a far-left group of fact checkers – used the Brennan Center’s 2006 report to verify Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement that 25 percent of African-Americans lack government-issued photo ID. Despite widespread media reliance on this Brennan Center study, it has come under fire for questionable methodology and motivations.
In August 2011, Hans A. von Spakovsky and Alex Ingram of the Heritage Foundation critiqued “Citizens Without Proof,” saying it is “both dubious in its methodology and results and suspect in its sweeping conclusions.” Spakovsky and Ingram pointed out that the Brennan Center used biased questioning to obtain their desired result – thus overestimating the number of eligible voters without proper identification. According to the Heritage Foundation scholars, “the authors of the Brennan Center study appear to have pursued results that advance a particular political agenda rather than the truth about voter identification.”
The Brennan Center has also presented the notion that voter fraud is so infrequent that the public should not be concerned with it. In November 2007, the Brennan Center published a report called “The Truth About Voter Fraud.” The report’s author, Justin Levitt, claims that “[a]llegations 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.” This report was also criticized for its liberal bias and shoddy work.
Calling the Brennan Center “[o]ne of the most dishonest and aggressive voter fraud deniers,” former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams noted that five months before the Brennan Center report came out, he prosecuted a massive voter fraud case in Mississippi. The Brennan Center “ignored the detailed court ruling because the avalanche of voter fraud did not fit their thesis.”
Christian Schneider, a senior fellow with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, also evaluated the Brennan Center’s “The Truth about Voter Fraud” report and found that it “doesn’t even withstand even the most cursory scrutiny,” pointing out that “mere statistics are a terrible way to determine whether vote fraud is occurring.”
Critics have also suggested that the Brennan Center has ignored other studies that have found little or no issue with voter ID laws. Maya Noronha explained on the Republican Lawyer Blog that the Brennan Center’s work on voter ID does not deserve merit since “[a]ll other studies, even those done by nonpartisan groups and even liberals, have found no problems with voter ID laws. A study by University of Delaware’s Jason Mycoff and David C. Wilson and University of Nebraska’s Michael W. Wagner found that voter ID laws had no impact on turnout. A study conducted by the University of Missouri’s Jeffrey Milyo even discovered that after voter ID, turnout increased in Democrat-majority districts. An American University survey found that 99% have photo ID in states with voter ID laws. That study was done by Dr. Robert Pastor, who was a senior advisor to Democratic President Jimmy Carter.”
According to the Brennan Center website, its Justice Program “fights to secure our nation’s promise of ‘equal justice for all,’” because “[t]he American justice system is broken. Our courts are the province of the wealthy.”
As part of this program, the Brennan Center works to “End Racial profiling.” However, this statement runs counter to one of the Brennan Center’s legal positions. In 2006, the Brennan Center wrote an amicus brief in the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 case supporting Seattle’s program that racially profiled students for high school enrollment purposes. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Brennan Center and held that the school district’s affirmative action program was unconstitutional. Rejecting the Brennan Center’s calls for discrimination, Chief Justice John Roberts explained in his majority opinion that “the way ‘to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,’ is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
Liberty & National Security
The Brennan Center website explains that its Liberty & National Security Program “fights to preserve constitutional values in the post-9/11 world and to set meaningful limits on the exercise of executive power.”
Media Echo Chamber
The mainstream media often presents Brennan Center conclusions as facts. Often these media outlets ignore the Brennan Center’s liberal bias, its George Soros funding and its history of sloppy work.
For example, on July 17, 2012 the Brennan Center issued a report titled “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification.” The report posited that ten states with voter ID laws are placing poll taxes on its citizenry by requiring a photo ID – even though the Brennan Center concedes that these states provide free IDs to low-income residents. The very next day, July 18, 2012, the Washington Post, National Public Radio and Rachel Maddow’s blog for MSNBC all heralded the report in “news” articles. None of the articles mentioned the Brennan Center’s bias or its connection to George Soros.
Likewise, after the Brennan Center’s 2007 report “The Truth About Voter Fraud” was published, former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams wrote, “[h]ere is the tragedy – the media take this flimsy report seriously. Dishonest hacks like Ryan Reilly regularly use the flimsy report to attack efforts to combat voter fraud, and by doing so provide a smokescreen to criminal behavior. Even outlets with a whiff of credibility use the report.”
In October 2011, the Brennan Center published “Voting Law Changes in 2012,” that was widely circulated in the mainstream media. According to Iris Somberg of NewsBusters, the “Soros-funded Brennan Center for Justice released a report opposed to new laws needed to combat voter fraud. This story was in turn promoted by Soros-funded progressive news sites that brought it to the national stage.” Somberg reported that “[t]he story first showed up in a preview by The New York Times on Oct. 2. The findings then made the rounds on liberal blogs and were written up by other outlets. This Soros-funded report was then promoted by the Soros-funded lefty media, which reaches more than 300 million people every month. Members of the Media Consortium, which received $425,000 from the Open Society Foundations, pushed the story when it first broke.”
Some journalists have even claimed that the Brennan Center is “non-partisan.” Filling in for MSNBC opinion-host Rachel Maddow in June 2012, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein cited the “non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice” for the proposition that 180 “bills to restrict voting rights” were introduced in states legislatures since 2011.
Writing for the National Review, the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky criticized both the Brennan Center report “Voting Law Changes in 2012” and the liberal media that heralded its findings. He wrote, “[t]o judge from the number of reports citing its conclusions, the Brennan Center report is certainly a successful propaganda effort. However, neither the editorials of the Washington Post and the New York Times nor the Brennan Center report are empirically driven. Rather, they are myth-driven diatribes against common-sense election reform that the vast majority of the American people agree with, no matter what their race or political background.”
Despite the Brennan Center’s best efforts, and the mainstream media’s constant drumbeat claiming that voter ID measures are really efforts to disfranchise voters, the American public largely supports voter ID. In June 2011, Rasmussen reported that 75 percent of Americans and 63 percent of Democrats said they support voter ID. And in 2012, a Rasmussen Report poll found that 73 percent of Americans do not consider voter ID discriminatory. According to Rasmussen, “[m]ost voters consider voter fraud a problem in America today and continue to overwhelmingly support laws requiring people to show photo identification before being allowed to vote.”
In 2009, the Brennan Center had total revenues of $7,161,004.
According to Jack Coleman of NewsBusters, “[t]he [George] Soros-funded Open Society Foundations donated $7.4 million to the Brennan Center from 2000 to 2010.”
According to Discover the Networks, the Brennan Center has also received funding from the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts and the Joyce Foundation.
Leadership (as of July 2012)
Michael Waldman, President (2009 Salary, $241,846)
Patricia Bauman, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors
Lawrence B. Pedowitz, Co-Chair of the Board
John Anthony Butler, Chief Operating Officer
John F. Kowal, Vice President for Programs
Frederick A.O. Schwartz, Jr., Chief Counsel
Brennan Center for Justice
161 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (646) 292-8310
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