ACORN lawyers say case is political

Lawyers for the grass-roots community organizing group ACORN and its staff blasted the state's prosecution of the group, calling it politically motivated and baseless.

The group, said attorney Lisa Rasmussen, will fight the charges.

"The politically motivated charges, such as those brought by the attorney general and secretary of state, just highlight the voter registration system that is broken," Rasmussen said.

Two co-defendants in the case appeared briefly Wednesday in a Las Vegas court. Christopher Edwards, 33, and Amy Busefink, 26, did not comment on the charges against them.

Edwards is ACORN's former Las Vegas field director. Busefink, of Florida, was the group's regional director for voter registration.

ACORN is accused of illegally requiring canvassers to meet voter registration quotas. That resulted in thousands of "garbage" registrations, the state attorney general said. Authorities said canvassers, under pressure to keep their jobs, turned in registrations with phony names and addresses. In one much-publicized account, a canvasser turned in the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys.

The attorney general's office has charged ACORN and Edwards with 13 counts of compensation for registering voters. Busefink is charged with 13 counts of compensation for registration of voters.

An attorney representing Busefink, Anthony DiRaimondo, called the charges totally unfounded and without merit.

"Nevada's election officials are wasting time and taxpayer money threatening people like Ms. Busefink who are working to bring disenfranchised Nevadans into the electorate," he said.

Bertha Lewis, ACORN's CEO and chief organizer, repeated the claims that the prosecutions against it were politically motivated. Lewis, based in New York, said that the charges stem from Republicans who have influenced Nevada authorities.

The charges were brought by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, and announced by Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, also a Democrat.

"Just because somebody says they are a registered Democrat doesn't make them fair and balanced and open," Lewis said.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Conrad Hafen said politics played no part in prosecuting ACORN.

"The attorney general's office is tasked with upholding the laws in the state," he said.

Authorities have rarely -- if ever -- used the law. Hafen said he has never seen it used in the 17 years he has been a prosecutor.

The attorney general said ACORN's canvassers were required to gather at least 20 voter registrations a day to keep their jobs.

They also had a bonus program, known as "blackjack," which rewarded employees with $5 extra per shift if they brought in 21 or more completed registrations.

Lewis said the blackjack bonus was against ACORN's policy. The group stopped the practice after learning about it.

ACORN also alerted state officials to the irregularities they found in its registration drive, said Clare Crawford, deputy political director for the group.

Lewis said that she is confident the group will be proved innocent and that the "trumped up, outrageous charges in the end will be thrown out."

Contact reporter David Kihara at or 702-380-1039.