LAS VEGAS -- A former supervisor for the defunct political advocacy group ACORN agreed to a plea deal Monday in a case alleging that canvassers were illegally paid to register Nevada voters during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Amy Busefink, 28, of Seminole, Fla., pleaded the equivalent of a no-contest in state court to two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters. Her Alford plea acknowledged the state had evidence for a conviction at trial.
The plea agreement could get Busefink a year of probation, a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.
"That's what Alford pleas are for, to get some finality," said her lawyer, Kevin Stolworthy. "She has never been in trouble before. She would like to have some finality and be done with it."
Clark County District Court Judge Donald Mosley will set sentencing Jan 10. Edie Cartwright, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said Busefink faces a maximum of up to two years in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Busefink still plans to challenge the constitutionality of the state law prohibiting paying canvassers based on the number of voter registration applications they turn in, Stolworthy said. The 1997 law was designed to prevent county elections offices from being swamped with false voter registration forms. The ACORN case marks the first time it has been tested in court, according to prosecutors.
The charges against Busefink stem from an investigation that began in 2008 after complaints surfaced that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was turning in bogus voter registration forms. Prosecutors said in court documents that Busefink and ACORN created a bonus incentive program that paid canvassers an extra $5 per shift if they turned in at least 21 voter registration cards by the close of the workday.
Conrad Hafen, Nevada's chief deputy attorney general, said witnesses reported that Busefink visited ACORN's Las Vegas office, where a dry-erase board displayed predominantly in the room explained how the reward program worked. When witnesses asked Busefink whether the program was still in place, she said yes, Hafen said.
"She never said anything like, 'Oh, that's wrong, you shouldn't be doing that,"' Hafen said.
Michael McDunnah, a spokesman for Project Vote, a Washington-based civic group, said Busefink never approved the reward program, but agreed to the Alford plea "to return as soon as possible to the important business of ensuring that every eligible American can register, vote and cast a ballot that counts."
Busefink was an employee of Project Vote when she helped oversee voter registration at ACORN, McDunnah said. She continues to oversee voter registration efforts at Project Vote, McDunnah said.
ACORN dissolved amid falling revenues in March -- six months after video footage emerged showing some of its workers giving tax tips to conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute.
Despite ACORN's financial woes, Nevada is moving forward with the case against the once-mighty advocate for low-income and minority voters. ACORN faces charges on conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters. The trial is expected to start on Nov. 29.
ACORN and its supporters insist there is nothing illegal about paying canvassers for exemplary work.