Frank, Conyers want CRS to review charges against ACORN

Two powerful Democratic committee chairmen on Tuesday came to the defense of the embattled community group ACORN, sending a clear signal that not all Democrats are content to let Republicans destroy the organization.

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House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have formally requested the Congressional Research Service provide a “clear and objective analysis” of the “charges and countercharges” that have recently been levied against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

The House and Senate last week overwhelmingly voted to strip federal funding from ACORN. The group has been the subject of Republican attacks since the 2008 campaign, and came under fire again after the release of a series of videos showing ACORN employees in various U.S. cities allegedly offering advice on how to commit tax fraud.

In the Senate, only Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against appropriations bill amendments designed to ban ACORN from receiving federal dollars. A self-described nonpartisan group dedicated to low-income housing assistance but that has strong ties to Democrats, ACORN has received roughly $50 million from the federal government since 1994.

House Republicans later followed suit, offering a similar de-funding amendment to a major student aid bill.

Seventy-five House members, all of them Democrats, voted in opposition to the GOP amendment.

Conyers, though, voted in favor of the amendment. Frank did not vote.

Conyers and Frank now want the Congressional Research Service to look at those House and Senate funding votes for “their possible unconstitutionality and whether they could constitute an unlawful bill of attainder.”

They’ve also asked CRS for a thorough analysis of past and present investigations into ACORN, including internal investigations and any investigations by federal, state or local law enforcement agencies or by Congress, as well as for a breakdown of various charges of voter fraud that have been levied against the group.

The pair also want the report to provide an analysis of “recent ‘sting’ activity concerning ACORN,” a reference to the recent videos taken by a man and a woman posing as a prostitute and a pimp that seemingly caught ACORN employees giving advice on how to evade federal tax and housing laws.

“Conflicting allegations have been made about the propriety of these activities,” Conyers and Frank wrote. “Please research and report on the federal and state laws that could apply to such videotaping and distribution of conversations without the consent of all parties.”

Since the hidden videos were leaked to media outlets, Republicans have been having a field day with the issue, continuously forcing Democrats to publicly stand either with the organization or against it.

Democratic leaders have described the more recent allegations against ACORN as inexcusable, but a number of them in both chambers voted against the de-funding measures.

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama said on ABC’s "This Week" that the content of the videos “was certainly inappropriate and deserves to be investigated,” but he downplayed the controversy.

“This is not the biggest issue facing the country. It's not something I'm paying a lot of attention to,” he said.

House Republicans blasted the Conyers and Frank request as inadequate and designed to shield ACORN from real congressional scrutiny.

“We can begin the process of uncovering the truth about ACORN immediately by holding congressional hearings in the Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Before any videotapes surfaced, Republicans on the Oversight Committee released a comprehensive and exhaustive 88-page report detailing an organization operating outside the boundaries of the law,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform ranking Republican Darrell Issa (Calif.).

“As questions continue to mount regarding ACORN’s activities, this not the time for us to abdicate our oversight prerogatives in favor of a more politically palatable course.”