GOP operative tries to suppress the Latino vote - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

GOP operative tries to suppress the Latino vote

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Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 12:00 pm

The facts about the latest Watergate-like caper are basically the following: The Spanish-language network Univision, known for having a fine record of encouraging voter participation, turned down a paid advertisement from the Republican-backed group "Latinos for Reform."

The Spanish-language message addressing Latinos was, "Don't vote" because the Democratic majority failed to introduce, much less pass, immigration reform.

Robert de Posada, a longtime Republican operative, sometimes spokesman and talking head, was responsible for the $80,000 ad placement.

De Posada was promoting anti-democratic activity, even though he subsequently garbled his message to make it seem like it wasn't a pro-Republican urging but just asking Latinos to not cast ballots. Still, this kind of Halloween trick-or-treat style campaigning is unworthy of any election in the United States.

So where does this anti-democratic mentality come from?

It comes from the Watergate playbook.

Back in 1972, a secret operation by a group calling itself the Brown Mafia, coordinated between Richard Nixon's White House and his reelection committee, and the GOP to leverage Republican support and suppress opposition. Their strategy and how they did it was fully disclosed by the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee looking into campaign activities, and whose revelations led to Nixon's resignation.

A memorandum was uncovered, authored by Alex Armendariz, a staffer at the re-election committee, who advised three ways to win large swatches of the Latino vote, leading to an operation called "The Responsiveness Program."

Step one was manipulating the bureaucracy to offer federal aid to target communities and take credit for it. Step two was to get Hispanics to run as Republicans, who would take credit for Republican activism.

So far, the first was questionable, ethically and legally. The other was reasonable if the parties were unknowing.

Step three discouraged Latinos from voting.

Through grants and contracts, target communities were pinpointed for funds, to create "ambivalence," intending to make it seem there was no candidate worth voting for.

That was done by giving covert money to disaffected groups, like Raza Unida, to run candidates to water down the Democratic vote. All of these activities were extensively documented in my 2003 book, "The Rise of Hispanic Political Power."

Were it not for the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee and its many revelations about the entire enterprise that went by the rubric "Watergate," this miserable episode of our history would have gone unknown and unremembered.

As there were bigger fish (like the "plumbers," the burglars for which Watergate is best remembered), no indictments were brought against the Brown Mafia, although the principal characters left government service, or were shown the door, or became minor, low-level characters in future politics. Of course, some were guiltier than others, some semi-innocent. Nixon even fired the two highest-ranking Latino appointed officials of the time.

Sen. Joseph Montoya of New Mexico, who served on the Watergate committee, called the entire scheme an "incredible insult."

It was that and more.

Jill Ellen Abramson, in The New York Times on Oct 16, is technically correct in saying that the 2010 campaign infractions are legal because secret money contributions are allowed due to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. But she is not digging deep enough to connect how covert funding leads to covert anti-democratic activity.

The only reasonable next step -- to nip this hydra again -- is to reopen the Watergate hearings. Have de Posada and his sponsors testify. Make the contributors of the $80,000 come forward.

Witnesses under oath need to face the public, answering committee questions like, "How is the ad not an anti-democratic activity? Do you believe in elections and citizen participation? If they were sincere, why didn't the ad ask ALL voters, not just Hispanics, to refrain from voting? Doesn't suppressing the vote damage our democracy?

To find out exactly what happened, the commission should follow the money.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at For more stories visit

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