By Stephen E. Barrar
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has recently come under fire for supporting a culture of unethical and criminal behavior among its employees, volunteers, and those it is supposed to serve. It's unfortunate when organizations that were supposed to have a positive impact on their communities veer so far from their intended course, but that is clearly what has happened with ACORN.
With allegations of illegal activities and election fraud mounting, I applaud Congress for taking action to eliminate federal funding for this group. We cannot sit by and allow publicly funded organizations to operate outside the scope of the laws that maintain civil society. Regrettably, though, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has refused to follow its federal counterpart and take appropriate action against ACORN.
This month, I offered a legislative amendment that would have denied public funding for partisan political organizations in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, my calls for the responsible use of taxpayer dollars were ignored, and the amendment was not considered by the House, which is controlled by Democrats. It's disappointing that despite all the talk about reforming our state legislature, we still have lawmakers willing to give Pennsylvanians' tax dollars to ACORN.
Worse, the group is not even a legally operating charity in the commonwealth. It has been the subject of a cease-and-desist order from the Pennsylvania Department of State since 2007 for failing to meet the legal requirements to solicit charitable donations. Yet it receives thousands of dollars in state appropriations and grants.
Some preliminary research by my office has uncovered more than $200,000 in state grants to ACORN over the past few years. I am in the process of filing for additional information on state funding of ACORN under the Right to Know Law so I can determine the full extent to which this organization is supported by state taxpayers' dollars.
If we are to truly reform state government, we must certainly reform our use of public funds. I will continue my fight to eliminate state funding for ACORN, and I implore my colleagues across the aisle to reconsider their decision to persist in using public funds to support organizations involved in alleged criminal activity.
In addition to my amendment to cut off appropriations to ACORN and other partisan groups, I have authored legislation that would bar such organizations from receiving funds from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. This prohibition would include groups that actively participate in partisan politics, as well as any organizations that "knowingly advise or counsel any person to engage in illegal activities."
Furthermore, the House State Government Committee should consider a formal legislative request that the state attorney general investigate ACORN. Although some members of the House may have ties to ACORN, the people of Pennsylvania have a right to know that public money is going only to those organizations that abide by the law.