ACORN

February 11, 2011

The Following article originated at and is copied from DiscoverTheNetworks.com

Just because they said they were closing up shop back in March of 2010, doesn't mean they actually did it. In fact, ACORN has been re-invented and this lengthy article covers their activities from its inception to the present and its many off-shoots.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a grassroots political organization. Since 1990, Steven Kest has been ACORN's national Executive Director, and Maude Hurd has been the organization's President. A notable ACORN advisory council member is Andrew Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union. Another key ACORN figure, affiliated with the organization since 1992, is Bertha Lewis, who in 2008 became ACORN's CEO and Chief Organizer.

Consider these basic facts:

  • Was the largest radical group in America, with more than 400,000 dues-paying member families and more than 1,200 chapters in 110 U.S. cities
  • Was implicated in numerous reports of fraudulent voter registration, vote-rigging, voter intimidation, and vote-for-pay scams during recent election cycles
  • Pressured banks to lend money to under qualified minority borrowers
  • Maintains close ties to organized labor
  • Opposes capitalism
  • Calls for more government control over citizens and the economy
  • Favors a government monopoly in healthcare
  • Advocates an open-door immigration policy
  • Announced in March 2010 that it would officially disband as a national entity on April 1 of that year, but it continued thereafter to pursue its agendas under various names at the state level.

ACORN grew out of George Wiley's National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), whose members in the late 1960s and early 1970s invaded welfare offices across the U.S. -- often violently -- bullying social workers and loudly demanding every penny to which the law "entitled" them. In the late Sixties, ACORN co-founder Wade Rathke was an NWRO organizer and a protegé of Wiley. Rathke also organized a draft-resistance campaign for the militant group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) during the same period. 

In 1970 Rathke -- along with the aforementioned Wiley (who was best known for his effective use of the so-called "Cloward-Piven strategy") and Gary Delgado (a lead organizer for Wiley's NWRO) -- formed a new entity called Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). The group's name was later changed to Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, but the acronym ACORN remained. Instead of focusing only on welfare recipients, ACORN's mandate now included all issues touching low-income and working-class people. Foundation Watch editor Matthew Vadum explains specifically what ACORN has done ever since its inception:

“ACORN ... organizes crude protests against businesspeople and public officials. Opposed to the profit motive and capitalism in general, it pushes for more government control over citizens and the economy. ACORN supports gun control, a government monopoly in healthcare and an open door immigration policy. It supports a big raise in the federal minimum wage and so-called ‘living-wage’ laws enacted by states and cities. ACORN wants more funding for urban public schools, and wants federal and state laws enacted guaranteeing paid sick leave for all full-time workers. The group claims to fight for affordable housing and it rails against foreclosures and so-called ‘predatory’ lending, even though it demands that banks make loans [to underqualified borrowers] destined to default.”

Manhattan Institute scholar Sol Stern writes that ACORN, professing its dedication to “the poor and powerless,” in fact “promotes a 1960s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism, central planning, victimology, and government handouts to the poor.” ACORN, Stern elaborates, organizes people “to push for ever more government control of the economy” and to pursue “the ultra-Left’s familiar anti-capitalist redistributionism.” This agenda is made plain in ACORN’s own “People’s Platform,” which says: “We are the majority, forged from all the minorities. We will continue our fight … until we have shared the wealth …”

In the early Seventies, Wade Rathke and his ACORN co-founders enlisted civil-rights workers and trained them in a program (at Syracuse University) patterned after Saul Alinsky's activist tactics. Often those tactics were subtle, featuring the quiet infiltration of political, educational, and financial infrastructures by ACORN members. In other cases, the methods were brazenly confrontational. As Carl Horowitz of the National Legal and Policy Center notes:

“In July 1997 … roughly 200 ACORN protestors stormed a session of the Chicago City Council (which was discussing “living wage” issues at that time), pushing over the metal detector and table used to screen visitors, backing police against doors, and blocking entrance to the room by late-arriving alderman and staff; six persons were arrested in the fracas.”

On another occasion, ACORN dispatched four busloads of protesters to the site of Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley’s home, where they screamed profanities at the mayor and his family. Additional ACORN members, meanwhile, piled mounds of garbage in front of Baltimore’s City Hall to protest the alleged paucity of services in the area’s poor neighborhoods. “We’re up in their face,” an ACORN representative said proudly.

In 1995 ACORN protested what it characterized as the Republican-led Congress’ proposed “spending cuts” on welfare programs. (In actuality, no cuts were being proposed; the Republicans were calling for an increase in welfare spending, but it was a smaller increase than ACORN wanted.) The New York Post describes the scene of this ACORN demonstration:

“House Speaker Newt Gingrich was scheduled to address a meeting of county commissioners at the Washington Hilton. But, first, some 500 protesters from [ACORN] poured into the ballroom from both the kitchen and the main entrance. Hotel staffers who tried to block them were quickly overwhelmed by demonstrators chanting, ‘Nuke Newt!’ and ‘We want Newt!’ Jamming the aisles, carrying bullhorns and taunting the assembled county commissioners, demonstrators swiftly took over the head table and commandeered the microphone, sending two members of Congress scurrying. The demonstrators' target, Gingrich, hadn't yet arrived -- and his speech was cancelled. When the cancellation was announced, ACORN's foot soldiers cheered.”

Such tactics are by no means a thing of the past for ACORN. As recently as June 2009, an angry mob of at least 150 ACORN protesters nearly knocked New York state Sen. James Alesi, a Republican, down to the floor and also spat in the face of his chief of staff. The protesters were reportedly upset that two Democratic senators had decided to caucus with Republicans — a move that, when finalized by the state Senate, would hand Republicans control of that body.

As of May 2009, ACORN claimed more than 400,000 dues-paying member families and more than 1,200 chapters in 110 U.S. cities. (The organization is also active in Canada and Mexico). It owns two radio stations, a housing corporation, and a law office, and maintains affiliate relationships with a host of trade-union locals. In addition, ACORN runs schools where children are trained in class-consciousness (New York City’s Bread and Roses High School and the ACORN High School for Social Justice); a network of "boot camps" for the training of street activists; and operations that extort contributions from banks and other businesses under threat of racial violence and trumped-up civil-rights charges. 

In 1998 in New York, ACORN founded the Working Families Party (WFP), which endorses candidates for political office. WFP endorsed Hillary Clinton in her 2000 Senate race. Canvassers from ACORN and its sister groups launched a statewide voter-mobilization drive that proved influential in Clinton's victory. In November 2001, a coalition of radical politicians led by ACORN-sponsored candidates running on the WFP ticket won a veto-proof majority on the New York City Council, giving ACORN de facto control of the New York City government.

ACORN's current platform in New York calls for a rollback of welfare reforms; a crackdown on NYC police, including a ban on "racial and ethnic profiling"; and the appointment of a politicized Civilian Review Board newly empowered to prosecute police officers. ACORN also seeks to use its influence to raise corporate taxes, increase regulation, and empower unions with an array of new rights. Moreover, ACORN aims to prevent any corporation from being free to leave New York without first obtaining an "exit visa" from the City Council.

ACORN makes a great deal of money from its "community organizing" campaigns, and shows little tolerance for rival leftist groups infringing on its turf. For instance, when ACORN set up shop in San Francisco in May 2002, it discovered that many of its potential recruits -- low-income blacks and Hispanics -- were networked with the Outer Mission Resident's Association (OMRA). The San Francisco Examiner reports, "ACORN soon began a process of intimidation by busing in activists from Oakland to disrupt OMRA events. ACORN members then began showing up at some neighbors' homes, and in one case jabbed a person in the chest." 

Since ACORN is a private corporation, it does not divulge its finances. Complicating any effort to calculate ACORN's income is the fact that the organization operates an enormous number of front groups, many of which conceal their relationship to ACORN. As of October 2008, there were at least 294 front groups, nonprofits, and businesses related to ACORN, the vast majority of which listed their headquarters as: 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana -- the site of a now-defunct funeral home.

But we can gain some idea of ACORN’s revenues by multiplying the organization’s 400,000+ member families by the $120 annual membership fee, which yields a total of approximately $48 million. According to ACORN's website, "Membership dues and a host of grassroots and chapter-based fundraising programs pay for 70 to 75 percent of the entire organization's budget." If that is the case, ACORN’s annual revenues are at least $64 million. Some of those revenues come in the form of taxpayer dollars furnished by the federal government: Between 1994 and 2008, ACORN received a total of $53 million in federal funds earmarked for so-called “community organizations.”

In a November 2008 expose about ACORN, Matthew Vadum observes that although the organization has soaked up many millions of taxpayer dollars while agitating for ever-higher tax rates on American workers, it has failed to address its own tax obligations:

“Ironically, ACORN and its affiliates, all reliable cheerleaders for higher taxes, are longtime tax deadbeats. A search of public records found more than 200 federal, state, and local tax liens adding up to more than $3.7 million that are associated with groups that share ACORN’s address on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans…. It is unclear what kinds of taxes ACORN and its affiliates failed to pay, but because almost all ACORN affiliates are exempted from paying most or all taxes, it seems likely that the liens were issued for non-payment of employees’ payroll taxes. If so, this would be ironic because payroll taxes fund the social and wealth-distribution programs that ACORN so staunchly supports.”

In addition to membership fees and government grants, ACORN (and its partner group the ACORN Institute) also have received large donations from a number of charitable foundations, including but not limited to the Annie E. Casey Foundation; the Minneapolis Foundation; the Open Society Institute; the Public Welfare Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; the Woods Fund of Chicago; the Scherman Foundation; the Ben and Jerry's Foundation; the Marguerite Casey Foundation; the Robin Hood Foundation; the Beldon Fund; the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; the Haymarket People’s Fund; the Streisand Foundation; the Union Bank of California Foundation; the Provident Bank Foundation; the JP Morgan Chase Foundation; the Bank of America Charitable Foundation; the US Bancorp Foundation; the PNC Foundation; the Wachovia Foundation; the Roseanne [Barr] Foundation; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the Lear Family Foundation; the Starbucks Foundation; the Arca Foundation; the Tides Foundation; the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Trust; the Needmor Fund; the Citigroup Foundation; and the Democracy Alliance.

Between 2005 and 2008, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contributed $7.4 million to ACORN’s national organization, state chapters and allied groups. SEIU’s single largest donation of $1.5 million went to the ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center in 2006; the union also made a $1.3 million donation to ACORN International in 2005. Other leading contributors to ACORN in recent years have been the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Longshore and Warehouse Union, the Communication Workers of America, and the National Education Association.

As noted above, housing activism is a major priority for ACORN, which has formed housing collectives in a host of targeted areas. These collectives pressure local authorities to place them (the collectives) in charge of renovating and managing abandoned or dilapidated properties for poor tenants. In turn, the local authorities provide money for renovation -- much of which ends up in ACORN bank accounts. The tenants are compelled to "earn" their new homes by investing "sweat equity"; i.e., working without pay on renovating the properties. ACORN or its designated "housing collective" retains title to the land on which these buildings stand. If the tenants decide to move out, they are required to sell their property back to ACORN, at cost, no matter what the market value of the property.

Another of ACORN's chief objectives has been to enact "living wage" ordinances at the local, state and federal levels. It has succeeded in getting many such laws passed. ACORN's model legislation contains a clause that exempts unionized businesses from having to pay the minimum wage. As a result, companies that stubbornly resist unionizing struggle and, in many cases, go bankrupt. By contrast, those that unionize thrive, thereby providing an ever-expanding membership base for union recruiting. This is the main reason that unions such as AFSCME and the SEIU contribute so generously to ACORN.

But ACORN, exhibiting a dissonance similar to that which it demonstrates (as discussed earlier) with regard to taxes, has displayed an unwillingness to abide by the same demands it imposes on others. Carl Horowitz explains:

“ACORN doesn’t even like paying the minimum wage, let alone a ‘living’ one set several dollars an hour higher. In 1995, ACORN’s California chapter went to court seeking an exemption from having to pay its workers the state minimum, at the time $4.25 an hour. The group lost. In its unsuccessful appeal, ACORN argued that being forced to pay its workers the minimum wage would violate its First Amendment rights. The presiding judge termed the argument ‘absurd.’ Welcome to the real world of employment.”

The Capital Research Center (CRC) provides a more up-to-date look at ACORN’s payroll and employment practices:

“A 2003 study of ACORN by the Employment Policies Institute found the group paid a wage of $5.67 per hour, which was ‘less than half the level demanded by many proposed living-wage ordinances that ACORN supports.’ Although it demands all workers be allowed to organize unions, ACORN doesn’t like it when its own workers try to organize. It has tried to block its own employees from signing up with unions, and in 2003 the National Labor Relations Board determined it had unlawfully blocked its workers from organizing.”

ACORN’s close ties to big unions are noted further by CRC researchers Matthew Vadum and Jeremy Lott:

“Organized labor is both a client and ally of ACORN. ACORN (including its affiliates) took in almost $3 million [in 2007] from unions to assist their anti-corporate campaigns, provide strike support, and help with research and staffing, among other things…. ACORN and union interests are tightly intertwined. ACORN founder and deposed former president Wade Rathke continues to serve as chief organizer of the New Orleans local of the Service Employees International Union. And as unions spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year [2008] to get out the vote for a more pro-union Congress and White House, they are counting on the officially nonpartisan ACORN to work feverishly to register pro-union voters and get them to the polls.”

This effort to persuade union members to vote dovetails with another of ACORN’s top priorities: to register as many new voters as possible. ACORN claims that its voter-registration drives leading up to the 2004 and 2006 elections resulted in the registration of more than 1.68 million people. Subsequently, at a March 2008 "Take Back America" conference sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future (CAF), ACORN joined CAF and five additional leftist organizations in announcing plans for "the most expensive [$350 million get-out-the-vote] mobilization in history this election season." Other members of the coalition included MoveOn.org, Rock the Vote, the National Council of La Raza, the Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, and the AFL-CIO. During the 2008 election cycle, ACORN registered, by its own count, 1.3 million people in 26 states across the U.S.

These impressive numbers are tarnished, however, by the fact that ACORN and its affiliates (most notably Project Vote, which is ACORN’s voter-mobilization arm) have engaged in massive campaigns of voter-registration fraud. Untold numbers of the registration forms that ACORN has submitted to election boards across the United States were fraudulent. The organization’s get-out-the-vote activists have been implicated in schemes involving the falsification and destruction of registration forms, the forging of signatures, the registration of dead or non-existent people, the registration of the same individuals multiple times, and the registration of convicted felons even in states where felons are ineligible to vote.

In 2008, election officials in several states said that fully half of ACORN voter registrations were fraudulent. As of October of that year, ACORN was under investigation for voter-registration fraud in 13 states -- Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Some of ACORN’s more notable election-related transgressions in recent years include the following:

  • In 2003 ACORN submitted 5,379 voter-registration cards to St. Louis, Missouri election-board officials, who later determined that only 2,013 of the cards appeared to be valid.
  • In 2006 approximately 20,000 questionable voter-registration forms were turned in by ACORN officials in Missouri -- virtually all in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, where ACORN professed a commitment to empowering the "disenfranchised" minorities living there.
  • Between March 23 and October 1, 2008, ACORN and other “get-out-the-vote” groups submitted at least 252,595 registrations to the Philadelphia County Election Board; of those, 57,435 were rejected for faulty information. Most of the fraudulent forms -- which featured fake social security numbers, incorrect birthdates, forged or duplicate signatures, and non-existent addresses -- were submitted by ACORN.
  • In Centre County, Pennsylvania -- the home of Penn State University and its 40,000 students -- former state Supreme Court Justice Sandra Newman complained in 2008 about a "massive effort" to fraudulently register those students. "I am not confident we can get a fair election," Newman said.
  • In Erie County, Pennsylvania in 2008, students at local colleges were targeted in "student registration drives" designed to register voters multiple times. The county’s director of elections reported that the "same handwriting" appeared on a large number of applications.
  • In October 2008, Philadelphia's City Commissioners voted unanimously to present to the U.S. Attorney some 50,663 fraudulent voter-registration forms submitted by ACORN. These included 35,888 duplicates; 689 that were filled out by people too young to vote; 2,108 with missing signatures; 5,093 with phony addresses; and 6,161 not eligible because they were missing a valid HAVA (Help America Vote Act) number.
  • In 2004 a Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman said that ACORN had been “singled out” among suspected voter-registration groups as “the common thread” in the agency’s statewide fraud investigations.
  • In 2004 Mark Wilson, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said that efforts to register felons and to submit fraudulent voter-registration forms were “so widespread” that “[i]t just seems to be a systemic approach to take advantage of our lax registration laws.”
  • Among the 1,320 voter-registration forms that ACORN filed in Brevard County, Florida in 2008, fully two-thirds contained the names of people who had been previously registered. One Miami individual in particular filled out 21 duplicate applications
  • In 2008 in Indianapolis (where ACORN was very active), the number of registered voters exceeded the official population of voting-age adults by 33,204.
  • In Lake County, Indiana, ACORN submitted 5,000 voter-registration applications in early October 2008. Of the first 2,100 that were analyzed by election officials, every single one was fraudulent. “All the signatures looked exactly the same,” said Republican election official Ruthann Hoagland. “Everything on the card filled out looks exactly the same.” Hoagland’s Democratic colleague, Sally LaSota, concurred: “We’re not handwriting experts, but what’s obvious is obvious.” The fake registrants included dead people and under-age children.
  • In Jackson County, Missouri in 2008, election supervisor Charlene Davis told reporters that her office had discovered some 800 fraudulent forms filed by ACORN.
  • In 2004 the voter rolls in St. Louis, Missouri included 1,452 people registered at vacant lots; 2,242 felons; 4,405 dead people; and 15,953 who were also registered elsewhere in Missouri or, in some cases, in another state.
  • In 2008 in St. Louis, where at least eight ACORN workers had previously pleaded guilty to fraud, at least 60 ballots were cast by voters using the identities of dead people.
  • In 2008 St. Louis election officials, suspicious of many of the voter-registration applications submitted by ACORN, sent letters to some 5,000 ACORN registrants citywide, asking the recipients to contact the election board. Fewer than 40 reponded.
  • In 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri (where four ACORN employees had been indicted for fraud a year earlier), approximately 15,000 registrations were judged to be questionable.
  • Two years earlier in Kansas City, 40 percent of the 35,000 registrations submitted by ACORN were fraudulent.
  • In October 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada, the FBI raided ACORN’s offices after reports surfaced that the organization had fraudulently registered a number of new “voters” with fictitious names.
  • In 2008 in Clark County, Nevada, registrar of voters Larry Lomax told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that ACORN was submitting 2,000 to 3,000 fraudulent applications per week.
  • In late 2008, Nevada criminal investigator Colin Hayes of the Secretary of State’s office said that 59 prison inmates had worked for ACORN from early March through late July of that year. According to the Las Vegas Sun, “One ex-employee of ACORN, Jason Anderson, rose to the rank of a supervisor in the voter registration program although he was a convicted felon and an inmate at Casa Grande at the time.”
  • In 2004, New Mexico state representative Joe Thompson accused ACORN of “manufacturing voters” throughout his state. The following year, ACORN employees forged thousands of signatures in a campaign to put a wage initiative on the ballot in Albuquerque.
  • In Seattle, Washington in 2007, ACORN workers filled out 1,805 registration forms with phony names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. Of the 1,805 applications, only 9 were confirmed to be valid. Washington secretary of state Sam Reed called it the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.
  • That same year, seven ACORN workers in Washington were indicted for having submitted nearly 3,400 fraudulent forms in King and Pierce Counties. Three of the suspects eventually pled guilty and ACORN was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.
  • In Oakland County, Michigan in 2008, election officials discovered more than 33,000 duplicate voter-registration applications, most of which had been submitted by ACORN workers.
  • Between January and October 2008 in North Carolina, where ACORN was particularly active, the number of newly registered Democrats exceeded newly registered Republicans by 218,749 to 38,337. This imbalance was evident even in the Charlotte-area county, where in previous election years new Republicans had consistently outnumbered new Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin. One ACORN worker in Charlotte was found to have forged approximately 70 registrations.
  • In 2004 ACORN and its affiliate, Project Vote, submitted a large number of voter-registration cards to the election board in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (which is part of greater Cleveland). These cards had a 15-percent error rate (i.e., mistaken names, addresses, birth dates, etc.) -- higher than the corresponding rate among cards filed by any other group.
  • That same year, the Franklin County, Ohio board of election supervisors said that ACORN and Project Vote had submitted hundreds of “blatantly false” forms.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal: “During a congressional hearing in Ohio in the aftermath of the 2004 election, officials from several counties in the state explained ACORN's practice of dumping thousands of registration forms in their lap on the submission deadline, even though the forms had been collected months earlier.” Reflecting on that practice, Thor Hearne of the American Center for Voting Rights remarked, “You have to wonder what's the point of that, if not to overwhelm the system and get phony registrations on the voter rolls.”
  • In 2008 the Cuyahoga County board of elections openly accused ACORN of fraud.
  • In 2008, approximately 8,000 of the 72,000 new applications submitted by ACORN in Ohio appeared to be fraudulent.
  • In 2004 in Colorado, ACORN filed hundreds of suspicious voter-registration forms in at least four Denver metro-area counties.

In November 2008, investigative reporter Matthew Vadum observed that “[c]urrent and former ACORN employees say ACORN makes no effort to remove bogus voter registrations.” “There’s no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances,” said former Missouri ACORN worker Nate Toler. “The internal motto is ‘We don’t care if it’s a lie, just so long as it stirs up the conversation.” According to Vadum:

“ACORN always resists accepting blame for the systemic electoral fraud that is its forte. It’s never their fault. Not surprisingly, the group said [in October 2008] that rogue operators—not ACORN officials at the top—were responsible for the invalid voter registrations. ACORN said it had to fire 829 of the 10,000 canvassers it hired during the election for problems such as falsifying registration forms.”

The American Thinker has observed that “ACORN's voter rights tactics follow the Cloward-Piven Strategy” by employing the following tactics:

1. Register as many Democrat voters as possible, legal or otherwise and help them vote, multiple times if possible.

2. Overwhelm the system with fraudulent registrations using multiple entries of the same name, names of deceased, random names from the phone book, even contrived names.

3. Make the system difficult to police by lobbying for minimal identification standards.

Just as ACORN was heavily involved in voter-registration fraud, so was it a key player in the chain of events and policies that led to the housing and banking crash of 2008. That crisis had its roots in the 1977 passage of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a federal law that outlawed “redlining” (the refusal of banks to lend money to borrowers located in areas known for their high default rates on loans). The CRA required banks to extend credit to undercapitalized, high-risk borrowers in low-income, mostly-minority areas. The Act also established extensive government oversight to monitor how well banks were complying with its mandates.

Under CRA guidelines, any bank wishing to expand or to merge with another financial institution would be required to first demonstrate that it had complied with all CRA rules. Final approval for expansions or mergers could be stalled, or derailed entirely, if "community groups" like ACORN were to accuse a bank -- however frivolously or unjustly -- of having violated the mandates of CRA. 

In the early 1990s ACORN, thus empowered by the CRA, insisted that banks demonstrate their commitment to minority lending by drastically lowering their standards on down-payments and underwriting, and by making loans even to borrowers -- especially nonwhite minorities -- with bad credit histories. If banks expressed reluctance to do so, ACORN intimidated them into compliance by threatening to sue them, to smear them in the media with negative-publicity campaigns (accusing them of racist and anti-immigrant lending practices), and to block any mergers which the banks might seek in the future. These threats were often accompanied by rowdy crowds of ACORN demonstrators swarming bank offices and lobbies.

In response, terrified bank executives routinely agreed to appoint ACORN as their official “advisor” on CRA compliance, thereby giving the group carte blanche to channel loans to its own hand-picked recipients. One ACORN leader boasted that her organization had become proficient at dragging banks "kicking and screaming" into high-risk loans for low-income people with shady credit histories. By September 1992, ACORN was issuing fact sheets broadcasting its success in having forced lenders to lower their credit standards on behalf of minorities. Ultimately, ACORN proudly claimed “credit for saving the CRA.”

The New York Post explains what happened next:

“As ACORN ran its campaigns against local banks, it quickly hit a roadblock. Banks would tell ACORN they could afford to reduce their credit standards by only a little -- since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage giants, refused to buy up those risky loans for sale on the ‘secondary market.’

“That is, the CRA wasn't enough. Unless Fannie and Freddie were willing to relax their credit standards as well, local banks would never make home loans to customers with bad credit histories or with too little money for a down-payment.

“So ACORN's Democratic friends in Congress moved to force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to dispense with normal credit standards. Throughout the early '90s, they imposed ever-increasing subprime-lending quotas on Fannie and Freddie….

“ACORN's intimidation tactics, and its alliance with Democrats in Congress, triumphed. Despite their 1994 takeover of Congress, Republicans' attempts to pare back the CRA were stymied….

“ACORN had come to Congress not only to protect the CRA from GOP [Republican] reforms but also to expand the reach of quota-based lending to Fannie, Freddie and beyond….

“[In June 1995] the Clinton administration announced a comprehensive strategy to push homeownership in America to new heights -- regardless of the compromise in credit standards that the task would require. Fannie and Freddie were assigned massive subprime lending quotas, which would rise to about half of their total business by the end of the decade.”

This strengthening of the CRA’s loan mandates, coupled with the authority that ACORN and other “community organizations” were given to intervene at yearly bank reviews, placed ACORN and likeminded activist groups in a position of great influence. Banks, eager to receive good reports from these groups (in order to avoid having their merger plans blocked or their lending practices challenged by the Justice Department), funneled immense sums of money to ACORN, et al.  As the New York Post puts it, “intimidation tactics, public charges of racism and threats to use CRA to block business expansion have enabled ACORN to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and contributions from America's financial institutions.”

One financial-industry consultant explains, with resignation: “The banks know they are being held up, but they are not going to fight over this. They look at it as a cost of doing business.”

Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (a community-action group that calls for individual responsibility rather than reliance on government handouts), puts it this way: “ACORN knows that corporate America has no starch in their shorts and, therefore, what they try to do is buy peace from groups that agitate against them. The same corporations that pay ransom to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton pay ransom to ACORN.”

According to author and political analyst Michelle Malkin, in 2005 ACORN’s San Diego office “publicly announced a partnership with Citibank to secure home loans for illegal aliens.” Wrote Malkin in September 2009:

“In 2005, Citibank and ACORN Housing Corporation — which received tens of millions of tax dollars under the Bush administration alone — began recruiting Mexican illegal aliens for a lucrative program offering loans with below-market interest rates, down-payment assistance and no mortgage insurance requirements. Instead of the Social Security numbers required of law-abiding citizens, the program allows illegal alien applicants to supply loosely monitored tax identification numbers issued by the IRS.

“The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that ‘undocumented residents’ comprise a vast market representing a potential sum of ‘$44 billion in mortgages.’ Citibank enlarged its portfolio of subprime and other risky loans. ACORN enlarged its membership rolls. The program now operates in Miami; New York City; Jersey City, N.J.; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Bridgeport, Conn.; and at all of ACORN Housing's 12 California offices.

“San Diego ACORN officials advised illegal alien recruits that their bank partners would take applicants who had little or no credit, or even ‘nontraditional records of credit, such as utility payments and documentation of private loan payments.’

“The risk the banks bear is the price they pay to keep ACORN protesters and Hispanic lobbyists from the National Council of La Raza screaming about ‘predatory lending’ off their backs. These professional grievance-mongers have turned the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act — which forced lenders to sacrifice underwriting standards for ‘diversity’ — into lucrative ‘business’ opportunities. Or rather, politically correct blackmail.

“As the Consumer Rights League noted in a 2008 report on the group's successful shakedowns of financial institutions, ‘an agreement with Citibank, a significant ACORN donor and partner, showed that some activists become less active when deals are in place.’”

On June 2, 2008, ACORN’s national board fired Wade Rathke from his position as ACORN's chief organizer, when it was publicly revealed that he had orchestrated an eight-year cover-up of massive embezzlement perpetrated by his brother and senior ACORN official, Dale Rathke. It was believed that the latter had embezzled nearly $1 million from ACORN and its affiliated groups in 1999 and 2000. ACORN admitted that for eight years its executives had kept this information secret from almost all of their organization's board members and from law-enforcement authorities, while Dale remained on ACORN’s payroll. (ACORN’s public admission only came to pass because a group of foundations and private donors had recently learned of Dale Rathke’s crimes and were preparing to go public with them.) Tides Foundation president Drummond Pike personally repaid the $1 million to ACORN.

According to ACORN president Maude Hurd, “We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house. It was a judgment call at the time, and looking back, people can agree or disagree with it, but we did what we thought was right.” Wade Rathke, meanwhile, said the decision to keep his brother’s crimes secret was not made to shield the latter from public criticism or legal action, but rather because news of his embezzlement could have been exploited as a “weapon” by ACORN’s detractors.

When Wade Rathke stepped down, he was ordered to sever any connections he had to ACORN. Rathke did not comply with this mandate, however. He went on to become the head of ACORN International. He failed to step down from his position as president and director of Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, an ACORN affiliate that produces news segments for alternative radio stations. And he remained the publisher of ACORN’s periodical, Social Policy magazine.

In early October 2009, it was revealed that Dale Rathke's embezzlement had been far more extensive than first thought. It actually amounted to $5 million.

ACORN supports the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would authorize a federal arbitrator to render a final and binding resolution for any union negotiations that are not settled quickly, meaning that, as journalist Claire Berlinski puts it, “the federal government will gain the power to dictate the terms of a contract and to set wages, benefits, hours, and work rules.” Moreover, the EFCA would make it easier for organizers to intimidate workers into forming new unions.

In the absence of EFCA, employees may choose any of three methods for deciding whether or not to become unionized: (a) a secret ballot wherein they privately and anonymously indicate their preference; (b) a signature drive, where they publicly affirm their wishes; or (c) a “card check” system, which unionizes employees if a majority sign their names on union-authorization cards. The latter two options are far likelier than the first to expose employees to coercion or intimidation by union leaders or organizers; but an employer, if he suspects that union organizers may be pressuring his workers to unionize, can demand a government-supervised secret-ballot vote to settle the matter. The EFCA would eliminate this right.

ACORN also favors the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which was originally instituted in the early days of the Federal Communications Commission “to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair.” At that time, the American public had few broadcasting channels from which to select, and each of those conceivably could have held identical positions on various issues of import—thereby precluding people from having access to a spectrum of different viewpoints. But in the current era of the Internet and the proliferation of radio and cable television stations, the situation is much different.

As the conservative political blogger Ed Morrissey writes, the original Fairness Doctrine “did not require broadcasters to present issues in a ‘fair and honest manner’; it required them to turn their stations into ping-ponging punditry if they allowed opinion to appear on the air at all. It created such a complicated formula that most broadcasters simply refused to air any political programming, as it created a liability for station owners for being held hostage to all manner of complaints about lack of balance.” One former Kennedy administration official candidly acknowledged many years ago: “Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters, and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too costly to continue.” 

ACORN is adamantly opposed to school vouchers that would help parents defray the cost of tuition if they wish to send their children to private schools. When Sol Stern, on one occasion, politely suggested to ACORN official Bertha Lewis that ACORN families might benefit by a school-voucher program for students who were failing in public schools, Lewis angrily replied that vouchers were “a hoax to destroy the public schools” and to divide people on the basis of “race and class.” “This is capitalism at its worst,” she shouted. “You always do it on the backs of the poor. It’s all bullshit, and you know it.”

ACORN has had a long, friendly relationship with Hillary Clinton, who was a featured guest speaker at the organization’s 2006 national convention. During her address, the Senator lauded ACORN for working “with people who want to organize unions in order to have a better chance to bargain collectively for pay and benefits.”

Notwithstanding its affinity for Mrs. Clinton, ACORN has even closer, more longstanding ties to Barack Obama. Thus on Feb. 21, 2008, the organization officially endorsed Obama for U.S. President. This endorsement came at the very height of Obama’s hard-fought Democratic primary battle against Hillary Clinton. Welcoming the endorsement, Obama told an audience of ACORN workers and supporters: “I’ve been fighting alongside ACORN on issues that you care about my entire career.”

Tracing ACORN’s historical ties to Obama, columnist Mona Charen writes:

“ACORN attracted Barack Obama in his youthful community organizing days. Madeline Talbott [a Chicago activist who led the aforementioned ACORN effort to storm the Chicago City Council in July 1997] hired him to train her staff -- the very people who would later descend on Chicago's banks as CRA shakedown artists. [Obama] later funneled money to [ACORN] through the Woods Fund, on whose board he sat, and through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, ditto. Obama was not just sympathetic -- he was an ACORN fellow traveler.”

The New York Post reports the following about ACORN’s links to Obama:

“Chicago ACORN sought out Obama's legal services for a ‘motor voter’ case and partnered with him on his 1992 ‘Project VOTE’ registration drive. In those years, he also conducted leadership-training seminars for ACORN's up-and-coming organizers. That is, Obama was training the army of ACORN organizers who participated in Madeline Talbott's drive against Chicago's banks. More than that, Obama was  funding them. As he rose to a leadership role at Chicago's Woods Fund, he became the most powerful voice on the foundation's board for supporting ACORN and other community organizers. In 1995, the Woods Fund substantially expanded its funding of community organizers -- and Obama chaired the committee that urged and managed the shift.

“The Woods Fund report makes it clear Obama was fully aware of the intimidation tactics used by ACORN's Madeline Talbott in her pioneering efforts to force banks to suspend their usual credit standards. Yet he supported Talbott in every conceivable way. He trained her personal staff and other aspiring ACORN leaders, he consulted with her extensively, and he arranged a major boost in foundation funding for her efforts.

"And, as the leader of another charity -- the Chicago Annenberg Challenge -- Obama channeled more funding Talbott's way, ostensibly for education projects but surely supportive of ACORN's overall efforts.

“In return, Talbott proudly announced her support of Obama's first campaign for state Senate [in 1996], saying, ‘We accept and respect him as a kindred spirit, a fellow organizer.’”

In 2008 Obama's presidential campaign demonstrated its solidarity with ACORN by quietly giving one of the organization's front groups some $800,000 to fund a voter-registration drive on the Senator's behalf.

In November 2008 Matthew Vadum revealed how ACORN, after news of its implication in voter-fraud began to surface during Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, tried to protect the Democratic candidate by covering up its own ties to him:

“In early October [2008], as media coverage of ACORN election fraud scandals intensified, ACORN removed a smoking gun from one of its websites. This was an article that linked Obama to ACORN and to Project Vote and made clear that the two entities were joined at the hip.

“The 2004 article was by Toni Foulkes, a Chicago-based member of the ACORN national board and now a Chicago alderman, and it appeared in Social Policy, a publication of ACORN’s American Institute for Social Justice. Extolling Obama’s political organizing abilities, Foulkes described the close connections between ACORN and its affiliate, Project Vote. She wrote that ACORN ‘invited Obama to our leadership training sessions to run the session on power every year, and, as a result, many of our newly developing leaders got to know him before he ever ran for office.’ So it was only ‘natural for many of us to be active volunteers in his first campaign for State Senate and then his failed bid for U.S. Congress.’ The upshot? ‘By the time he ran for U.S. Senate, we were old friends.’”

On June 17, 2009, ACORN's global entity, ACORN International, announced that it had changed its name to "Community Organizations International." "This may indeed be the beginning of an ACORN network-wide rebranding, but a rotten ACORN by any other name still stinks," said Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center. Speculation swirled that the parent organization, referenced throughout this profile as ACORN, was considering a name-change as well -- mainly to distance itself from its corruption-tarnished image.

A July 2009 congressional report -- titled “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?” -- accused ACORN of massive fraud, money laundering, and racketeering directed from the highest levels of the organization's management.

On September 10, 2009, the website BigGovernment.com and Glenn Beck of Fox News went public with secretly videotaped footage of two employees at ACORN Housing's Baltimore office advising a young man and woman (investigative journalists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posing undercover as a pimp and a prostitute) on how they could defraud the federal government out of taxpayer dollars for the purpose of financing a brothel staffed by more than a dozen underage illegal aliens from El Salvador. (ACORN Housing provides "free housing counseling to low- and moderate-income homebuyers.") The ACORN workers happily advised the couple on how they could go about obtaining government money to fund their prostitution ring. ACORN initially called Beck's report an unfounded "smear" campaign, but the following day the organization fired both of the workers who had appeared in the video.

Another video featuring O'Keefe and Giles surfaced the next day, revealing a similar undercover operation in which Washington, D.C. ACORN Housing employees were likewise willing to participate in the same scam. ACORN promptly fired those employees as well, again claiming that they had been victimized by a “smear” campaign.

On September 11, 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau severed its ties with ACORN, which had been slated to help with the execution of the 2010 nationwide census. Census Director Robert Groves wrote a letter to ACORN, stating:

“It is clear that ACORN’s affiliation with the 2010 census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public
cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 census efforts.”

Shortly thereafter, another undercover video showing an ACORN Housing employee in the organization's San Bernardino, California office encouraging illegal behavior. This video showed a white, female ACORN employee — claiming to have close ties to various politicians — acknowledge that she used to be in the prostitution business and that she had murdered her own husband.

Mike Shea, executive director of ACORN Housing, said the videos that had emerged so far were only reflective of a small handful of rogue employees. ACORN founder Wade Rathke blamed the group’s problems on partisan zealotry. "This is all just more reputational McCarthyism as the rightwing and Republicans attack ACORN," he said.

Meanwhile, ACORN president Bertha Lewis said the videos had been “doctored,” characterizing them as a “well-orchestrated, well-funded, concerted, relentless campaign to attack this organization.” She did not explain, however, why she had fired the employees who appeared in those videos -- without defending their reputations -- if the tapes indeed had been doctored. Nor did she explain why ACORN had suddenly suspended all hiring in order to conduct an internal review.

On September 17, 2009, ACORN-San Diego official David Langstein fired employee Juan Carlos Vera, who was caught on video offering O’Keefe and Giles advice about, and help with, smuggling people across the Tijuana border; he also had asked Miss Giles (posing as a prostitute) how much her services cost. Langstein said that while his organization was "furious" that hidden cameras had been used to film his employees, "we accept the imperfections that [the video] exposed."

Also on September 17, the “Defund ACORN Act,” which had been introduced two days earlier by Republican Leader John Boehner in an effort to completely cut off federal funding for the organization, was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. The bill passed by a 345-75 margin in the House of Representatives (including 172 Democrats who voted in favor), and by an 83-7 vote in the Senate (including 50 Democrats who voted in favor). The organization had so badly disgraced itself, that it had essentially lost the support of the very party on whose behalf it had been lobbying for decades.

A few days later, in light of the damning undercover sting videos, the Internal Revenue Service dropped ACORN from its Volunteer Income Tax Preparation program, through which approximately 3 million low- and moderate-income tax filers had received free advice earlier that year, and through which some 25,000 people had received help with their tax returns.

In November 2009 ACORN sued the U.S. government, claiming that the recently enacted defunding was unconstitutional. ACORN was represented in the lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

On January 12, 2010, ACORN’s California chapter (the largest affiliate in the ACORN network) changed its name to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment -- in an effort to distance itself from the highly publicized scandals in which ACORN's national organization had been involved during 2008 and 2009.

On February 23, 2010, Arkansas ACORN similarly announced that it was re-forming itself under the name Arkansas Community Organizations. This was also done in an effort to minimize the effects of ACORN's national scandals.

By March 2010, ACORN’s $25 million budget had fallen to $4 million, further diminished by massive legal fees. And with various state chapters splintering away, CEO Bertha Lewis announced that ACORN was folding, effective April 1. But ACORN's dissolution was illusory, consisting of nothing more than its state chapters continuing to rebrand themselves under new names -- while staying true to the same ideals and agendas they had always pursued. By early April, several more state and city chapters of ACORN had taken new names:

  • Texas Organizing Project 
  • Missourians Organizing for Reform Empowerment
  • New York Communities for Change
  • New England United for Justice (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island)
  • Arkansas Community Organizations
  • A Community Voice (Louisiana)
  • Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
  • Pennsylvania Neighborhoods for Social Juatice, and Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change
  • Organization United for Reform - Washington (State)
  • Communities United (Washington, DC)

ACORN Housing, a nationwide operation, changed its legal name to Affordable Housing Centers of America.

ACORN International changed its name to Community Organizations International. As of May 2010, it was active in Argentina, Canada, Dominican Republic, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, and Peru.

Two weeks after ACORN’s faked dissolution on April Fool’s Day, Lewis sent out a mass email declaring that “ACORN is not dead!” -- asking for support and asserting that private donations had actually increased since the scandal erupted. On April 20, Lewis reported that ACORN was "still alive. We're limping along. We're on life support." The organization's staff, which had formerly consisted of as many as 600 people, had been reduced to four.

In May 2010, Housing Centers of America (the new name of ACORN’s largest and most well-funded affiliate, ACORN Housing) disclosed in a lobbying-reporting form that in the first quarter of 2010, that it had paid a lobbying firm $40,000 to lobby both houses of Congress, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (which was investigating ACORN), the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Justice.

Matthew Vadum reports that in the early months of 2010, former Democratic congressman Timothy J. Roemer, President Obama’s ambassador to India, "lent his name and the prestige of the U.S. government to ACORN India’s efforts" to organize rag-pickers in Dharavi, a slum in the suburbs of Mumbai. The U.S. consulate in Mumbai, headed by Consul General Paul Flombsee, also co-sponsored a March 2010 water-conservation event with ACORN India, which reports to Community Organizations International (formerly called ACORN International). In May 2010, Matthew Vadum wrote the following about ACORN International:

"One of the reasons the group was created was to allow ACORN to apply its corporate shakedown techniques against Western corporations as they expand into rapidly developing markets such as India. ACORN India’s website declares that the group was created to help defend the 'socialist legacy' of Jawaharlal Nehru, a leftist who was prime minister of India from 1947 to 1964. That 'legacy' is 'now in danger from the onslaught of the march of global corporatism,' according to the website."

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