Gotcha? James O’Keefe exposes racial question in Sensenbrenner voting rights bill


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Looks like U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner just got O’Keefed.

“Guerrilla” journalist James O’Keefe has caught on camera the Wisconsin congressman, who insists his Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 doesn’t exclude protections for white voters.

FACING CRITICISM: U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says his proposed amendment to the Voting Rights Act does not exclude whites and nonminorities in its protections, but the bill’s language says otherwise.

A video report released Wednesday by O’Keefe’s conservative Project Veritas shows O’Keefe peppering Sensenbrenner with questions about the language of the bill.

While O’Keefe has trouble pronouncing the veteran congressman’s name — O’Keefe calls him Stensenbrenner in the video — the gotcha journalist has no problem catching Sensenbrenner in some double-speak, if not, as O’Keefe asserts, an outright lie.

“At a town hall of constituents in Rubicon, Wisconsin, Sensenbrenner denied the fact that the voting rights legislation he is sponsoring excludes white voters from the protection of the Voting Rights Act,” Project Veritas charges in a news release. “When clearly asked if the Act excludes protections for white voters, Sensenbrenner responds, ‘It does not do that.’”

“It says if there is discrimination against whites, that’s treated the same way as discrimination against blacks,” Sensenbrenner says in response to O’Keefe’s questions.

That’s not what the congressman’s proposed amendment says.

In the section in question, dealing with voting discrimination in “Political Subdivisions” such as counties and cities, the bill defines who is protected and who isn’t.

“… The term ‘minority’ means persons who identify themselves as being — of Hispanic or Latino origin; or a race other than white; or of 2 or more races.”

Sensenbrenner’s amendment also defines “nonminority.”

“The term ‘nonminority’ means persons who identify themselves as being — (i) not of Hispanic or Latino origin; (ii) white; and (iii) not of any other race.”

Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Sensenbrenner’s answers were quite telling.

“He clearly does not understand his own bill,” von Spakovsky told Wisconsin Reporter.

Von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and an expert on enforcement of federal voting rights, said Sensenbrenner’s push to amend the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unnecessary because its language notes “low minority turnout,” where the original law specifies low turnout by all voters.

“When Sensenbrenner says (his bill) doesn’t differentiate between whites and blacks, that is wrong,” von Spakovsky said.

Sensenbrenner’s proposed amendment aims to “fix” the portion of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4, that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year. The section determined which states must receive clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or federal court prior to those states making changes — minor and significant — to their voting procedures. Section 5 of the act establishes the preclearance requirement.

Before the court declared the section unconstitutional in a 5-4 decision, the law applied to nine states, most in the South, with a past history of discriminatory election practices. Dozens of counties, municipalities and other local jurisdictions also were covered under the sections.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the old coverage system was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.” In short, times had changed and the problems that confronted 1965 elections no longer exist in the main.

“Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions,” Roberts wrote. “It cannot simply rely on the past.”

Sensenbrenner’s amendment would bring states under the preclearance requirement if they commit five Voting Act violations within “the most recent 15 years.” Counties, cities and towns would face federal oversight if they commit three violations within 15 years or have had one violation of “persistent and extremely low minority” turnout over that period.

The legislation’s language omits “extremely low” turnout for whites, something that critics like von Spakovsky have panned.

Sensenbrenner, in his statement, reiterated that “all racial discrimination — whether directed at white or minority voters — counts equally as a violation under that Act.” But his bill doesn’t state it that way.

“The bill can easily be broadened in Committee to recognize ‘persistent and extremely low white turnout’ as well, but was not included in the original draft because no one has ever flagged persistent suppression of majority voters as a problem,” Sensenbrenner said in the release.

Not quite.

There was the case of Ike Brown, the black chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in Noxubee County, Miss. A federal court in 2007 found Brown had engaged in systematic discrimination against white voters in a case the Associated Press called “the first of its kind in the country, accusing black political leaders of discriminating against white voters.” Brown was ordered to not seek voting changes.

Sensenbrenner’s staff point to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, allowing private citizens and the Justice Department to combat racial discrimination of all kind.

Ben Miller, Sensenbrenner’s press secretary, says ‘whites and nonminorities’ could be added to the bill’s political subdivision section.

“The bill has been introduced, but has not gone through the committee process,” Miller told Wisconsin Reporter. “An amendment could be added, and I don’t think it would be a controversial one.”

But why not just add the language now, guaranteeing that all voters would be protected under the amendment? Sensenbrenner could pull the bill, redraft it and resubmit it.

RACE EXPOSE: James O’Keefe, best know for his video expose into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, is at it again, this time training his camera on a controversial amendment to the Voting Right Act.

Miller said the section, as written, doesn’t change the intent of the bill, which is to “make sure everyone has the right to vote, that no one is disenfranchised.”

O’Keefe also claims Sensenbrenner’s amendment doesn’t protect voter identification laws enacted by several states.

Von Spakovsky agreed, pointing to possibilities of federal interference in Wisconsin.

“If Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upholds the state’s voter ID law, (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder could file a new lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as he has done in Texas and North Carolina, and say Voter ID is discriminatory, and this bill does nothing to stop this kind of lawsuit,” the elections expert said.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, Texas, one of the states once subject to federal oversight, announced that its voter ID law blocked by the Justice Department would go into effect immediately.

Miller said such lawsuits are allowed under the current law and will be allowed whether Sensenbrenner’s bill passes or not.

O’Keefe did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment.

In the video, O’Keefe tells Sensenbrenner that it seems like he’s “doing the work of Eric Holder and the race hustlers with the language of this bill.”

Sensenbrenner disputes the charge, telling O’Keefe that Holder opposes the bill. Asked if President Obama shares his attorney general’s sentiments, Sensenbrenner in the video says he hopes “the president vetoes the bill.”


“If the president vetoes this bill he will lose an awful lot of the African-American support he has,” Sensenbrenner says.

Contact M.D. Kittle at

The post Gotcha? James O’Keefe exposes racial question in Sensenbrenner voting rights bill appeared first on