Newhouse rag beats up on ACORN

More ACORN stories: hereVoter-fraud stories: here

Fairness to both sides means throwing one bone to the other side

ACORN, a group with a checkered past is finally getting the bad name it deserves. ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, is a behemoth in the voter registration world that masquerades as a non-partisan community organizing group.

Its practice of registering phony names for voting purposes has just begun to attract national headlines and FBI investigators this fall, but ACORN's sordid history of fraud and partisan electioneering dates back to its founding in Arkansas in the 1970s.

During the last few years, ACORN has been implicated in more than a dozen investigations of election fraud. Some egregious examples: In 2003 ACORN submitted 5,379 voter registration cards in St. Louis, of which only 2,013 appeared to be valid. In 2005, four ACORN employees in New Mexico submitted as many as 3,000 potentially fraudulent signatures in support of an Albuquerque ballot initiative.

Given ACORN's long relationship with Barack Obama, its widely investigated activities in this election are particularly significant.Obama worked for the organization's political arm, Project Vote, in 1992; advised the group on legal matters in 1995; and donated over $800,000 from his campaign for "voter registration" efforts to an ACORN-affiliated organization this year. In 2008, ACORN has signed up 1.3 million voters in swing states from Florida to Nevada to Indiana. Considering the razor-thin margins of the past two presidential elections and ACORN's sheer size, it's not hard to imagine that its efforts will be enough to tip the balance.

While national headlines have focused on ACORN's relationships with Obama, the group's troubling practices extend far beyond voter fraud. In recent years ACORN has been rocked by a million-dollar embezzlement scandal (and subsequent cover-up), allegations of oppressive employment practices, and misuse of government funding. While caught up in these activities, ACORN used taxpayer money to help lay the groundwork for the current subprime mortgage mess. And the group intends to use your money to do it all over again.

Long before "subprime" became a household word, ACORN fought to make sure every American, regardless of their poor credit history or lack of assets, could get a mortgage. After the savings-and-loan bailout of the 1980s, new legislation required lenders to compile public records of their borrowers by income, race, and gender. This allowed another activist group, Self Help Inc (a predecessor and affiliate of the Center for "not so" Responsible Lending) to generate statistics supporting ACORN when it routinely accused lenders of racism and discrimination.

Within a few years, ACORN mastered the art of pressuring banks into lending to borrowers who wouldn't normally qualify. Newspapers and financial advisors were encouraging bad credit customers with low incomes to apply for loans with the help of ACORN and the Center for Responsible Lending. Many of these same subprime borrowers have since ended up in foreclosure, after finding themselves with mortgage payments they couldn't afford.

It is nearly impossible to determine exactly where ACORN gets its funding and what the group does with it, since its money flows through a complex web of more than 75 different organizations-some nonprofit, some commercial, and some political. We do know, however, that taxpayer dollars have been involved.

In the last three reported years, the ACORN Housing Corporation received over $7 million from the federal government. And last month, together with their old friends at the Center for Responsible Lending,ACORN leaders tried to get a much bigger piece of the pie. They lobbied, successfully, to funnel 13 percent of the $700 billion bailout package into a bloated federal project that will continue to put high risk borrowers into unwise mortgage investments.

ACORN's impact on the presidential election is very real, but it's not just going to disappear on November 5. Radical groups, especially those that can influence election results and re-route billions of government dollars, tend to keep looking for new ways to increase and consolidate their power. Until Americans demand that ACORN is held accountable for its pattern of abuse, we will all suffer the consequences.

- Richard Berman is the Executive Director of the Employment Policies Institute.


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