Choicepoint President Funds Secretary of State Candidate Scott Holcomb
With additional reporting by Betty Clermont, Staff Writer.
(APN) ATLANTA – With the Georgia Primary for Secretary of State only days away, Atlanta Progressive News has learned Democratic Candidate Michael “Scott” Holcomb has accepted campaign contributions from the President of Choicepoint Corporation and the President’s wife.
Choicepoint has come under scrutiny for its well-researched acquisition of the company responsible for the false felon voter list which disenfranchised tens of thousands of minorities in the 2000 elections in Florida. Choicepoint, headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, with over a billion dollars in revenue in 2005, is synonymous with voter fraud and Bush cronyism to many advocates. It has billions of data points about individuals and has contracts with the US government to provide much of that information to them toward their goal of total information awareness.
Mr. Douglas Curling, the President of Choicepoint, gave $500 to Holcomb’s Campaign on December 19, 2005, according to campaign finance disclosures dated December 31, 2005.
Curling’s wife, Donna Curling, gave $1,000 to Holcomb’s Campaign on December 21, 2005.
Holcomb is the only candidate running for Secretary of State among all parties to have accepted money from Choicepoint leadership. And it would be unlikely given the amount of elections-related research on Holcomb’s website that he would be unaware of the concerns many citizens have about Choicepoint.
But there’s much more.
Donna Curling, the wife of the President of Choicepoint, it seems, is also the Co-founder of a group which has endorsed Holcomb, Georgians for Verified Voting, and has funded a national voter integrity organization, VoteTrustUSA.
“Candidates for office should not take dirty money, and voting advocates should not take dirty money either,” Greg Palast, an award-winning BBC journalist who has studied voting issues and Choicepoint, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“It’s called a conflict of interest. It’s NOT a question of [whether the Curlings are] good or bad [people]. When your decisions could effect the financial fate of a company, are they investing in you? Is there a quid pro quo?” Palast said.
It’s like asking the citizens of Georgia to take a big leap of faith when faith in our elections leadership is not so high.
The Office of Georgia Secretary of State is responsible for ensuring honest elections. The Elections Division “plays a crucial role in keeping Georgia’s elections fair and free from fraud,” according to the state’s website.
“The Curlings have donated to Scott Holcomb’s Campaign solely as individuals. Donna Curling, in particular, has been a supporter of many Democratic causes and candidates,” Matt Gewolb, Chief Counsel and Chief of Staff for the Holcomb Campaign, told Atlanta Progressive News in response to our inquiry.
Seeing as how Mr. Curling has been one of Choicepoint’s top executives since 1997, first as Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, then Chief Operation Officer, and now President, it seems disingenuous to try to separate the man from his company’s record.
But that’s just what Choicepoint and others have tried to do.
“Doug and Donna Curling contribute to many Democrat candidates,” Choicepoint spokesperson Matt Furman wrote in an email to Atlanta Progressive News.
“To suggest that by giving money to any single candidate they are doing anything but supporting the causes that candidate stands for is just plain wrong. These are politically informed, passionate people who are putting their money where their mouth is and nothing more,” Furman wrote.
Some activists did not agree with this explanation.
“That’s called a stakeholder. If your husband is the President, you cannot make the claim there’s not a connection because your livelihood is tied to that company,” Bev Harris of Black Box Voting told Atlanta Progressive News.
The Curlings are not only reliant on salary from Choicepoint; they are also stockholders, and so is their foundation, Harris said.
Meanwhile, Greg Palast threatened Atlanta Progressive News with a slander lawsuit if we were to reprint off-the-record comments made by some local and national voting rights activists which may have criticized Palast’s work.
“I’m not going to allow Choicepoint to run a whisper campaign against me. Choicepoint takes shots at me all the time. This is a sneaky tactic, to use cutouts to pretend there’s independent people questioning my reporting who are not independent,” Palast said.
Atlanta Progressive News has contacted a number of local and national voting rights and voting integrity activists, and was surprised to see how many were actually engaging in the practice of defending Choicepoint. Several respondents were granted off-the-record interviews.
John Gideon of VoteTrustUSA said he had “no comment,” when asked about the Curlings’ support of the organization or others, or of Scott Holcomb’s campaign.
“Choicepoint is a company that’s been involved with elections in ways that make a lot of us uncomfortable. They were definitely involved with buying the company while it was involved in the [faulty] felon voting purge,” Bev Harris said.
“At the heart of this is the fact the whole issue of what’s done with our personal data is not properly thought out and does not have the proper protections,” Harris said.
Mrs. Curling had been participating on the VoteTrustUSA listserv under a false name, Harris said. “So people didn’t know they were discussing their plans with the wife of Choicepoint’s President.”
Some of those who defended Choicepoint said it wasn’t Choicepoint that was responsible for the 2000 disenfranchisement in Florida; instead, it was the company they acquired and profited from.
“That’s like saying ‘my hand did it, not me,’” Greg Palast said in disagreement with that reasoning.
“They can be responsible for anything they should have known when considering the purchase,” Harris said.
MORE ABOUT CHOICEPOINT
Choicepoint’s deceptive practices begin with the first sentence on their website: “For almost a century Choicepoint has been a trusted source and leading provider of decision-making information.” A spin-off from another Georgia-based company, Equifax, Choicepoint became a separate, publicly-traded company, in August 1997.
Notable milestones in the company’s short history include:
Purchasing the company that KNOWINGLY produced inaccurate lists of felons, who are barred from voting in Florida, with information provided by Texas (where the governor was running for president) and supplied to Florida (where the governor is the candidate’s brother), resulting in tens of thousands of black voters, who were not felons, being disenfranchised in the 2000 election and thus ensuring the election of George W. Bush.
To be sure, Katherine Harris’s Elections Division in Florida stated it only wanted 80% accuracy on the list. Choicepoint has testified this to a panel called by US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, according to footage in American Blackout.
“They warned the state and took the money,” Palast said.
“They were watching the [disenfranchisement] of Black voters, and didn’t act. That’s called a willful failure to know, when you don’t act. When you aid it and earn money off of it,” Palast said.
Plus, “Choicepoint said we warned the state it was wrong. They can’t say that and also say, ‘It wasn’t us,’ [it was the company that we acquired]. They can’t have it both ways,” Palast said.
Besides, at the time, “they were very proud to claim entire credit for the voter rolls of Florida,” Palast said.
Choicepoint purchased Bode Technologies, the biggest private DNA testing lab, and was given the contract for identifying 9/11 victims. In an April 2002 interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Choicepoint CEO, Derek Smith, said, “We have spent the last five years preparing our business for an environment we thought was coming. The events of September 11th did not surprise us as a corporation.” Choicepoint was also paid to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina. They just announced their Bode Technologies subsidiary is being sold.
According to Greg Palast, Choicepoint was awarded over a billion dollars in national security contracts. Since Choicepoint database information was obtained for “commercial purposes,” Bush can bypass constitutional limits on government domestic spying by obtaining information directly from Choicepoint, rather than relying on the FBI, which has yet to operate an effective computer system.
Choicepoint obtained voter registration lists for Argentina, Venezuela, and Mexico – all countries with presidents, or presidential candidates, who lead anti-Bush national factions. Argentina threatened to arrest Choicepoint contractors. Mexico did arrest Choicepoint data thieves. On his website, Palast pointed out our government may still be holding a copy of this information, using it to assist the conservative Mexican presidential candidate, Felipe Calderon, in stealing last weekend’s election.
In 2005, Choicepoint announced it sold 163,000 consumer records (including Social Security numbers and credit information) to identity thieves. The Federal Trade Commission fined the company a record $15 million, the largest fine ever for this purpose. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating stock trading by Smith and Curling between the time the company knew about the database scam and the time it became public, according to the AJC.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the anti-immigration bill SB529 into law in April 2006. The law, already imitated and passed in Colorado, requires employers to access a special national database before hiring anyone to ensure they are US citizens or legal immigrants. Perdue has accepted campaign contributions from Derek Smith and David Davis, another ChoicePoint executive. Choicepoint has contributed heavily to the Republican Party. Can we bet on which company will get the contract?
Choicepoint is also heavily involved in lobbying for bills that involve removing restrictions to gathering and distributing personal information, Harris said.
Is it possible, as some voting rights activists who are accepting money from the Curlings have suggested, that the Curlings are wonderful people and this is just Mr. Curling’s day job?
It is possible their motives are good and pure? Yes, it is possible. Atlanta Progressive News has no evidence one way or another about the motives of Mr. and/or Mrs. Curling.
However, regardless of the intent of the relationships they’ve established with Holcomb and voting rights advocates, the consequences are clear and troubling. It appears that some voting rights advocates have become quasi-spokespersons for Choicepoint. Could the same happen with Holcomb?
“I gotta tell you, it is painful to turn down money. It would come with [unclear and unstated] expectations. You cannot become beholden. You start to rationalize,” Harris warned.
Was it worth $1500 for Holcomb to take funding from sources that may make many voters uncomfortable? That is yet to be seen. But one thing’s for sure. It was Scott Holcomb’s CHOICE and that’s the POINT.
EDITOR’S NOTE: APN issued 2006 endorsements last week. We endorsed Angela Moore for Secretary of State, adding Holcomb would have been out second choice. At this time, APN is retracting our statement that Holcomb would be our second choice; we no longer have a second choice.
About the authors:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Betty Clermont is a Staff Writer at Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at email@example.com
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.