ACORN gets 'vindicated' by GAO, but remains in decline

A new government report may help restore ACORN’s tarnished reputation but its release comes as the group is preparing to shutter its doors.

The preliminary findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation indicate the controversial grass-roots organization did not misuse the more than $40 million in taxpayer funds it received between 2005-2009.

ADVERTISEMENT
ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis said the report provided vindication.

The GAO report “does nothing more than add to the growing list of government entities who have vindicated us,” she said in a statement.

“The rush to judgment on our work and the political witch hunt led by congressional Republicans was based solely on speculation and has been exposed over and over again for the attempt to destroy an organization that fights for the rights of our nation’s low-and-moderate income families.”
 
The group, known formally as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, came into the crosshairs of congressional Republicans after it boasted registering some 1.3 million voters in key swing states that President Obama won in 2008.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has called ACORN “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.” In a statement last week, Issa said the report left too many questions unanswered.

“This preliminary report underscores the need for the continuation of the current ban on federal funding for ACORN and its affiliates,” he said. “ACORN simply should not receive taxpayer funding as a reward for its criminal activities and illegal partisan political work.”

At its height, ACORN’s had a budget of close to $35 million, about a third of which came from government grants. The rest came from the dues of its 500,000 members and private donations. But last fall Congress voted to defund ACORN amid allegations of voter registration fraud in several states and widely circulated videos depicting what appeared to be inappropriate behavior by employees of several local ACORN chapters.

The group has since been in decline, shuttering its approximately 75 field offices as donors and members stopped giving. Lewis is now in the process of winding down the group’s activities.

But the report released last week “did not identify any problems with seven of the eight grants” the group received from nine federal agencies between 2005-2009. The other grant, provided to ACORN Housing Corporation, raised concerns because a “description of what it planned to accomplish” with the funds wasn’t provided. That was later clarified, according to the report.

Much of the government funding went to ACORN’s housing-related activities -- such as helping the poor achieve home ownership or fight off foreclosure -- but some grant money did help fund its voter registration efforts.

The report confirmed there were five cases where an ACORN employee pleaded guilty to charges of voter fraud. “Six cases were identified by [the Department of Justice] involving voter registration fraud, with all but one case resulting in guilty pleas,” the report states.

It’s the lingering concerns about voter fraud that are likely to prevent ACORN from making a comeback.

Democrats, meanwhile, have stepped up their own voter registration effort. The Democratic National Committee announced last week it was planning to spend $20 million registering minorities, young and female voters this cycle.

It remains to be seen whether the DNC can be as effective as what had been one of the country’s largest grass-roots advocacy organizations.