Editorial: ACORN's fall
Partisan maneuvering infects almost every discussion emanating from Washington these days. The health-care reform debate is a good example. Few acts aren't calculated to move a pile of voters. Take efforts to castrate ACORN, the ethically challenged grassroots organizer of poor people. If ACORN weren't credited with registering a million Democratic voters over the years, would its Republican critics be raising so much sand?
Partisan maneuvering infects almost every discussion emanating from Washington these days. The health-care reform debate is a good example.
Few acts aren't calculated to move a pile of voters. Take efforts to castrate ACORN, the ethically challenged grassroots organizer of poor people. If ACORN weren't credited with registering a million Democratic voters over the years, would its Republican critics be raising so much sand?
Of course, ACORN has provided plenty of legitimate ammunition, the most well-known being its staffers in five cities who gave tax-break advice to a couple who pretended to be a pimp and a prostitute. It didn't matter that the pretend sex traders were dismissed by ACORN staffers in other cities they visited, including Philadelphia. It didn't matter that the staffers who didn't tell the pimp to take off were fired.
Congress voted to cut off all funding for ACORN, which has received about $54 million in government grants since 1994. ACORN, which is in 75 cities, gets 90 percent of its budget from other sources, but the pimp scandal has threatened those funds, too.
To stanch the bleeding, ACORN hired an "independent" investigator to look into its operation. But that just opened the door for accusations that it paid to get the results it wanted from such a probe.
That's too bad. Because although it might have been predictable that former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger would conclude that ACORN broke no laws in pimpgate, the rest of his report has value.
In fact, Harshbarger came to a conclusion that ought to be appreciated by ACORN's Republican critics: that it ought to get out of politics and go back what it does best - helping the downtrodden get decent jobs and housing. Harshbarger's 47-page report urged ACORN to return to its roots of community organizing.
In the mid-1980s, ACORN came to Philadelphia to pressure banks to invest in neighborhoods. In the 1990s, ACORN was instrumental in getting local insurance companies to provide affordable coverage for low-income homeowners. In the 2000s, ACORN was in the city to fight predatory lending. That's the work it has done well.
ACORN has been accused of voter fraud, but subsequent investigations have not revealed the grand scheme that its critics have alleged. Typical is last year's case of a Chester County man who forged names on registration forms so he could get paid by ACORN to register new voters without actually doing the work.
Harshbarger's report pinpointed a bigger problem for ACORN, mismanagement that began under founder Walter Rathke and allowed his brother Dale Rathke to conceal his embezzlement of nearly $1 million from the 40-year-old organization. Both Rathkes are out now, and current ACORN leader Bertha Lewis promises to be more vigilant.
Harshbarger recommends that ACORN hire an independent ethics officer. That's a good idea. Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, wants the FBI to conduct a criminal investigation "to get to the bottom of allegations against ACORN." That's a fine idea, too.
If crimes occurred, they should be prosecuted. In the meantime, maybe ACORN can stop being a convenient whipping boy for all those who are angry that the votes it helped reap might have cost them an election.