A Government Accountability Office (GAO) probe concluded this week it has found no evidence that the embattled Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN) or related organizations, mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years.
Long targeted for its grass roots organizing on behalf of the low-income working poor, ACORN disbanded as a national organization earlier this year following months of legal and financial difficulty.
Nearly two-dozen members of Congress requested an investigation after a series of complaints against ACORN and its affiliates. Such complaints included an accounting scandal, cases of voter registration fraud and the release of a video made by right-wing activists that appear to implicate ACORN workers in facilitating prostitution.
Conservative right-wing activists and talk radio hosts including Republicans in Congress orchestrated a campaign to defame the group and persistently attacked ACORN’s success, critics charge.
In the fall of 2009 Congress bowed to the politically motivated smear campaign and voted to bar federal funds from reaching ACORN, its affiliated organizations and allies without a fair investigation and trail, critics add.
In November 2009, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit challenging Congress’ actions. A federal judge sided with CCR in March ordering the U.S. government and several federal agencies to rescind orders cutting off funds to ACORN and its affiliates. However the federal government has appealed and CCR says it will head to court next week to demand that ACORN receive the funds they are due.
Bill Quigley, legal director for CCR argues the right, as part of a conspiracy to silence the left, has targeted ACORN and groups like it. Such right wing campaigns jeopardizes the rights of the poor and the working class, he wrote recently in the Huffington Post.
“ACORN must continue to receive federal funding in order to advocate for poor, working- class people across the nation to ensure their rights to affordable housing, a healthy environment, and to a living wage,” writes Quigley.
Without this critical funding, ACORN, its affiliated organizations, and working people and the families they serve will continue to be devastated, he notes.
Congress defunded ACORN and in doing so, “Congress has effectively acted against the rights of the poor, and working class people of this country,” says Quigley.
ACORN was known as the nation’s largest and most successful community organization of low and moderate-income families, with more than 500,000 members from over 1,000 neighborhood chapters in 75 cities nationwide. Since 1970, ACORN built a powerful network of community organizations committed to social and economic justice and has won thousands of victories in defense of its members.
Supporters say ACORN revolutionized the field of community organizing by creating a multi-racial organization that could wage battles at the local, state, and national levels. ACORN community organizers fought for jobs, veterans benefits, fair utility prices, better schools, parks, fair housing, health care, police protection and much more.
ACORN leaders led successful campaigns that targeted the big banks, insurance companies, utility companies, and other corporate power brokers. Major legislative battles were won due to ACORN’s deep roots in the community that empowered working families, especially African Americans, Latinos and other minorities.
ACORN warned policymakers about the dangers of predatory lending and the possible foreclosure epidemic years before it became a major crisis, supporters say.
The group built a powerful coalition of unions, faith groups, elected officials, and community residents.
Critics say soon after President Obama took office, ACORN became the target of a right-wing assault that it was unprepared for and, ultimately, unable to survive. Its downfall was engineered in part by Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s top political advisor, who saw ACORN’s large-scale voter registration efforts in 2008 as a real threat to GOP candidates.
Today offspring activists of ACORN continue to be involved and active in more than a dozen states and many of its former leaders and staff are building new progressive community organizing groups to carry on the groups historic work.
A new book by John Atlas called “Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group,” has recently been published detailing the groups rise and fall.
Photo: Tim Wheeler