Wisconsin Homeless Reportedly Given Free Cigarettes For Gore Votes

Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26pm EDT
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(CNSNews.com) - A Milwaukee television station, WISN-TV is reporting campaign workers for Vice President Gore supplied homeless voters with packs of cigarettes and then gave them rides so the voters could pick up their absentee ballots in Milwaukee.

The Bush campaign says the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office is investigating the incident and the Wisconsin Republican Party will be filing a complaint with the state elections board.

Gore campaign officials said they didn't ask for that kind of campaign help and ordered those workers to leave Wisconsin. However, Gore campaign volunteer Connie Milstein told WISN-TV, "we've been pretty busy, going to the local shelters." The station reported that Milstein worked for the Gore campaign in New York and was brought in to "get out the vote."

WISN showed George Scharf, a homeless voter, explaining why he took advantage of the offer. "They had a couple of vans, and said they'd give us a ride. So I took a ride," Scharf said. Scharf said in the report that he had been planning to vote for Gore anyway, and that voters weren't told about the free cigarettes until after they were at the polls.

A Milwaukee Rescue Mission employee said in the television report that he had to ask Democratic campaign volunteers to leave the property after he caught them trying to bribe potential voters with cigarettes.

One voter, however, said he did not feel like he was bribed for his vote. "They just came and asked us to go and vote," Bob Socha said. He also said he enjoys voting and was already planning to vote for Gore.

Wisconsin State Representative Scott Walker, who heads up the Milwaukee County Bush campaign, said the tactics used by the Gore campaigners raise a few questions.

"Even aside from the law itself, I just think most people on a gut check level would say that's wrong. One has to question if they were going to be voting anyway. One has to question why would the campaign, the Gore campaign, be giving anything out, other than a ride to vote," Walker told WISN-TV.

A Milwaukee representative of the Gore campaign told the station that such bribery is not wanted. "This kind of activity described by Channel 12 is not the kind of help we ask for and it's the kind of help we flat-out reject. These volunteers were from out of state, acting on their own and this was not part of any official Democratic get-out-the-vote activity. They have left the state and we will not invite them to return," Susan Lagana, a spokesperson for the Gore campaign in Wisconsin said.

The Bush campaign contends that Connie Milstein, the worker caught on tape handing out the cigarettes is chairman of the Democratic National Committee's Major Supporters. Milstein is based in New York City.

"The woman who was doing this in Milwaukee was no ordinary Democrat volunteer. She's a senior member of the Democrat National Committee, obviously somebody who knows the vice president personally and is very involved in Democrat politics at a senior and high level," Bush Communications Adviser Ari Fleischer said.

"This is just plain and simply wrong. There is a right way and a wrong way to turn out the vote in this country and handing cigarettes to homeless people in an effort to entice them to vote is as wrong as wrong can be. It raises questions as to whether similar activities are going on at other places around the country," Fleischer said.

"It also raises as to how deeply the Democrat party adheres to its philosophy of fighting tobacco," Fleischer said. "Surely, she (Connie Milstein) knew what the vice president said in 1996 (on tobacco), yet she handed out cigarettes to homeless people to get them to the polls. It strikes me as an act of inconsistency and I hope the vice president will decry it."

The Bush campaign also wants to know who paid for Milstein's travel to Wisconsin from New York, how many cigarettes were handed out and who paid for the cigarettes.

Bush campaign legal counsel Ben Ginsberg said the action violates a Wisconsin state law entitled "election bribery."

"This morning (Monday) the Milwaukee County DA (District Attorney) announced that they are investigating the incident and the Wisconsin Republican Party will be filing a complaint with the State Elections Board on the civil side. We are concerned as to where this may be occurring elsewhere around the country," Ginsberg said.

Late Monday, Wisconsin Republican Governor Tommy Thompson criticized the Gore campaign volunteers for their actions.

"There is no place for this despicable brand of politics in Wisconsin. It is unconscionable that the Gore campaign would prey on vulnerable people such as the homeless by rewarding them with cigarettes in exchange for their votes," Thompson said in a statement.

Neither the Gore campaign nor the Democratic National Committee returned phone calls Monday seeking comment.
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