Senator Scott Brown charged this week that a lawsuit which prompted Massachusetts to send voter registration forms to thousands of welfare recipients was intended by the group that brought the suit to aid Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign. Brown demanded that Warren reimburse taxpayers the costs of the mailings, which he called an “unprecedented voter registration drive.”
The debate—just the latest firestorm in the high-profile race between incumbent Brown and Democratic challenger Warren—centers on whether Warren or Massachusetts Democrats influenced a court case brought by New York policy and advocacy group Demos. Warren’s daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, is the chair of Demos’ board of directors, and several board members have donated to Warren’s Senate campaign. Brown alleged that Warren used her connection to Demos to encourage the organization to raise the case, which would increase the number of potential Democratic voters in November.
“Professor Warren has more than $13 million dollars in her campaign account, and if she wants to mail every welfare recipient a voter registration form, she should do so at her own expense, not taxpayers’,” Brown said in a statement Friday.
Democrats replied that Brown was unfairly tying Warren to a case that is simply a matter of law enforcement.
Along with other advocacy groups, Demos has filed suits similar to the one in question in Massachusetts in 18 states since 2004, in an effort to increase implementation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, known colloquially as “Motor Voter.” The law, which has attracted a great deal of controversy since its adoption, requires that voter registration materials be proactively made available at all public assistance offices.
In the case brought against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in May, Demos claimed that the state had failed to make such materials available to citizens, resulting in plummeting registration application numbers among those receiving federal assistance in recent years. An interim agreement reached on July 5 required the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance to mail voter registration forms and pre-paid envelopes, at taxpayer expense, to roughly 478,000 welfare recipients Demos claimed were affected.
Brown’s campaign first raised concerns about the case on Wednesday, saying the case was “clearly designed to benefit [Warren's] political campaign.”
In response, a Demos statement called Brown’s claims “completely off base” and defended Tyagi.
“We completely reject the Brown campaign’s or anyone else’s assertion that this is politically motivated or coordinated in any way,” said Demos president Mike Rapoport. “Amelia Warren Tyagi...would not and did not encourage any work in order to benefit her mother’s campaign.”
Warren’s campaign manager Mindy Myers said in a statement, “His entire attack is built on efforts in multiple states to enforce a law passed almost twenty years ago with bipartisan support. Even the Bush Justice Department filed suit to enforce this provision of that law. For Brown to claim this is some kind of plot against him is just bizarre.”
Harvard Kennedy School lecturer David King said that though Demos’ political liberalism is no secret, it is highly unlikely that Warren in any way affected the suit or the ruling.
“All [Demos is] involved with is asking states to follow the federal law,” he said. Several states have defied the Motor Voter guidelines for political reasons, King said, since Republicans historically have viewed the act a path to more votes from traditionally Democratic welfare recipients.
King said he believes Brown is trying to further a narrative that Warren is privileged and out of touch. “It’s completely for political reasons,” he said. “It would be hard to believe that anyone in the Scott Brown campaign would actually believe what they’re saying.”
Republican political consultant Todd Domke disagreed, saying that Republicans in Massachusetts are used to Democrats taking advantage of their control over the state government for personal gain, and Brown is justified in calling foul.
“Frankly, Republicans in the state have been aware for decades that the coincidences favor the Democrats when it comes to government boosting prospects for liberal candidates and using government money to promote themselves,” Domke said. “If there was no political motivation, if the Warrens are pure of heart, do people think that Demos would have been pressing this if they thought the result was adding a great many more Republicans to registration lists?”
Whether or not the allegations, or the court ruling, will have enough influence to tip the neck-and-neck race toward either camp remains to be seen. Traditionally, higher voter turnout means better chances for Democrats in Massachusetts.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.