A Few Bad Acorns and the Right Wing Crusade

In defense of ACORN:

The right-wing crusade against ACORN is a far bigger fraud than any misdeeds a few employees might have committed

By Joe Conason / September 21, 2009

For many years the combined forces of the far right and the Republican Party have sought to ruin ACORN, the largest organization of poor and working families in America. Owing to the idiocy of a few ACORN employees, notoriously caught in a videotape “sting” sponsored by a conservative web site and publicized by Fox News, that campaign has scored significant victories on Capitol Hill and in the media.

Both the Senate and the House have voted over the past few days to curtail any federal funding of ACORN’s activities. While that congressional action probably won’t destroy the group, whose funding does not mainly depend on government largesse, the ban inflicts severe damage on its reputation.

In the atmosphere of frenzy created by the BigGovernment videos — which feature a young man and an even younger woman who pretend to be a prostitute and a pimp seeking “advice” from ACORN about starting a teenage brothel — it is hardly shocking that both Democrats and Republicans would put as much distance as possible between themselves and the sleazy outfit depicted on-screen.

Like so many conservative attacks, the crusade against ACORN has been highly exaggerated and even falsified to create a demonic image that bears little resemblance to the real organization.

Working in the nation’s poorest places, and hiring the people who live there, ACORN is not immune to the pathologies that can afflict institutions in those communities. As a large nonprofit handling many millions of dollars, it has suffered from mismanagement at the top as well — although there is nothing unique in that, either.

Yet ACORN’s troubles should be considered in the context of a history of honorable service to the dispossessed and impoverished. No doubt it was fun to dupe a few morons into providing tax advice to a “pimp and ho,” but what ACORN actually does, every day, is help struggling families with the Earned Income Tax Credit (whose benefits were expanded by both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton). And while the idea of getting housing assistance for a brothel was clever, what ACORN really does, every day, is help those same working families avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

Perhaps the congressional investigation now demanded by some Republican politicians would be a useful exercise, if conducted impartially. A fair investigation might begin to dispel some of the wild mythology promoted by right-wing media outlets.

Among the most popular canards on the right, repeated constantly by conservative pundits and politicians, is that ACORN has been found guilty of engaging in deliberate voter fraud, using federal funds. In reality, ACORN has registered close to 2 million low-income citizens across the country over the past five years — a laudable record with a very low incidence of fraud of any kind.

Over the past several years, a handful of ACORN employees have admitted falsifying names and signatures on registration cards, in order to boost the pay they received. When ACORN officials discovered those cases, they informed the state authorities and turned in the miscreants. (That was why the Bush Justice Department’s blatant attempt to smear ACORN with rushed, election-timed indictments became a national scandal for Republicans rather than Democrats.)

The proportion of fraud is infinitesimal. For example, a half-dozen ACORN workers were charged with registration fraud or other election-related crimes in the 2004 election. They had completed fewer than two dozen false registrations — out of more than a million new voters registered by ACORN during that cycle. The mythology that suggests that thousands or even millions of illegal registrants voted is itself a fraud.

If only the Republicans who have worked up a frenzy over ACORN’s alleged crimes were so indignant about real and damaging voter fraud — such as the amazing case of Young Political Majors, the firm that ran GOP registration efforts in California, Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere before the authorities in Orange County, Calif., busted its president, Mark Anthony Jacoby, and sent him to jail last year.

He had built a lucrative partisan career by teaching his minions to deceive thousands of voters into registering as Republicans rather than Democrats, among other scams. Of course, the only on-air mention of the Young Political Majors scandal on Fox News was made by blogger Brad Friedman — and the national media, mainstream and conservative, generally ignored it. They were too busy generating “controversy” over ACORN.

So now the overhyped voting registration tales are metastasizing into wild accusations about ACORN’s finances and programs, including claims that the group will receive billions in federal bailout funding and that it is a hotbed of corruption, perhaps even murder.

In fact, ACORN affiliates — those not involved with voter registration — have received a few million dollars annually in federal funding. The group is not scheduled to receive any bailout money (although working people would probably benefit more from subsidizing ACORN than greasing AIG and Goldman Sachs).

The fans of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck regard ACORN as a criminal enterprise that fosters tax fraud, prostitution, child prostitution and even murder (thanks to a satirical “confession” by an employee filmed surreptitiously in the San Bernardino ACORN office). But ACORN chief organizer and CEO Bertha Lewis swiftly dismissed the employees caught on those videotapes and set about reforming the flawed processes that enabled those individuals to speak for the organization.

No overt acts were committed by any of the people caught on those tapes — and so far nobody has found that any of those theoretical “crimes” ever took place.

To claim that the stupid behavior of a half-dozen employees should discredit a national group with offices in more than 75 cities staffed by many thousands of employees and volunteers is like saying that Mark Sanford or John Ensign have discredited every Republican governor or senator.

Indeed, the indignation of the congressional Republicans screaming about ACORN and the phony streetwalker is diluted by the presence of at least two confirmed prostitution clients — Rep. Ken Calvert and Sen. David Vitter — in their midst. Neither of those right-wing johns has been even mildly chastised by their moralistic peers. Nobody is cutting off their federal funding.

ACORN has pledged to institute reforms, with the appointment of a distinguished outside panel to oversee that process. Let us hope they succeed. Even now they seem far more likely to improve their performance — and to be more sincere in their intentions — than the Washington hypocrites who are trying to destroy them.

Source / Salon.com

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5 Responses to A Few Bad Acorns and the Right Wing Crusade

  1. JoJo says:

    the idiocy in acorn is more than a few, it is a culture that poisons the whole organization. acorn embodies the nonprofit industrial complex more than any other lefty organization. my personal experience in austin was horrible, and i think others that attempted to get involved with them here can concur. they also fought tooth and nail (and lost) against a group of their own workers who tried to unionize against mistreatment and pitiful wages in dallas.
    when we defend chumps we look like chumps.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Acorn’s a political entity operating under the guise of a benevolent organization. They have no business getting public funds (and I dispute the claim they are NOT getting stimulus funds). ACORN is loaded with scam artists, partisans and lobbyists. The entire organization has problems, it is NOT just a few bad apples. Year after year, time after time ACORN has been caught doing illegal and/or unethical things. The ‘investigators’ who spurred the current scandal only had to go to a few ACORN offices to uncover several cases of wrongdoing – can you imagine what would have been found had they investigated ALL the ACORN offices? It begs the question: Why wasn’t the major news outlet looking into this?

    Because others have acted improperly, doesn’t mean ACORN should get a pass. What kind of ethics is that? The author defends ACORN’s multiple violations as ‘stupid behavior’ and ‘isolated incidents’. I believe they have repeatedly demonstrated their corruption and need to be dismantled.

    ACORN exploits the poor who they use for cheap labor and cover for their political activities. Their tactic is to exchange welfare for votes with the promise that if you vote for welfare pork candidates, it will get you even more free stuff.

    The author claims: “alleged crimes” – that’s untrue. ACORN, it’s organizers or employees have been found guilty of embezzlement, fraudulent voter activity and now clearly on tape they participated in additional travesties. Their subsidiary Citizens Services is a partisan group. They both should be investigate and have to provide full access to their records.

    We’ll see if any action is taken against ACORN as they’re extremely well connected politically. ACORN perks are even written into the health care legislation! They have a number of politicians in their pocket.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Because others have acted improperly, doesn’t mean the GOP should get a pass. What kind of ethics is that? The previous commenter defends the GOP’s multiple violations as ‘stupid behavior’ and ‘isolated incidents’. I believe they have repeatedly demonstrated their corruption and need to be dismantled.”

    Yes, that works just fine. Just substitute the letters GOP for ACORN and you have the real story.

  4. dospesentas says:

    To the previous ‘anonymous’ – the prior commenter say’s nothing about the GOP. That’s pretty lame. O.K. we got it you are a partisan and hate Republicans.

    With regard to ACORN; They’re a stealth political machine, plain and simple. Their history of corruption and dirty tricks is long and documented. If this was a right/Republican leaning organization, most of you would be calling for them to be imprisoned and banished.

    Regardless schemes like ACORN, run by partisans, do nothing more than harm our democratic process by attempting to stack the deck with ignorant voters.

  5. Jim says:

    Your defense of ACORN is weak. Currently the orgainization is under investigation in 22 states, the former head is accused of imbezzeling 5 million and so far a number of “common workers” have given a wink and a nod to facilitating children in prostitution. Come on – Enron was cleaner than ACORN and they are no longer in existance. Sometimes you need to cut out the whole cancer.

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