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Doubts About ACORN Pre-Date Current Scandal

By Garance Franke-Ruta
On Thursday, Congress voted to bar the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) from receiving federal funds. The vote wasn't the first time federal funding for the politically active antipoverty group became a subject of controversy in the House, though the circumstances this time around were very different.

For a blast from the past, read Molly M. Peterson in National Journal's CongressDaily on Sept. 28, 2005:

Action on a House bill to overhaul regulation of the government-sponsored enterprises has been at a standstill for months because of conservative Republicans' warnings that advocacy groups might use the legislation's affordable-housing subsidies to promote a liberal agenda.

Those lawmakers have mentioned the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now as an example of a group that, they fear, might use the proposed housing grants as a "slush fund" for lobbying and political activities.

An ACORN official said the group would not apply for those subsidies if the legislation is enacted, because it does not do the type of hands-on housing development projects that the grants would target.

Nevertheless, concerns raised by members of the conservative Republican Study Committee have prompted Majority Leader DeLay to postpone a House vote....

In a May 25 letter to DeLay, [GOP] lawmakers argued the proposed fund could finance third-party groups whose agendas go "far beyond simply increasing affordable housing for low-income Americans" and are "antagonistic" to free-market principles.

ACORN Executive Director Steven Krest called those concerns "totally absurd." Krest said the proposed fund is designed to subsidize the "hard costs" of building and renovating housing for low-income Americans.

He said ACORN does not do those types of projects, so it would not seek to participate in the affordable-housing fund.

But a House Republican aide said the ACORN Housing Corp. -- a nonprofit affiliate of ACORN that operates HUD-certified, Fannie Mae-approved housing counseling offices -- could obtain grants from the proposed fund. The aide said conservative lawmakers are concerned that those housing grants could end up subsidizing ACORN's political activities. "To the extent that you free up resources for the housing affiliate, then you're in a situation where you have other money that is now available for election activities and lobbying," the GOP aide said. "The money's fungible."

Krest said those concerns were unwarranted. He said ACORN's operations and budget are "totally separate" from those of its housing affiliate. "They are a 501(c)3 counseling and development agency that has no lobbying or political or voter-mobilization functions at all," Krest said of the ACORN Housing Corp. "That's not what they do."

The GSE legislation would prohibit groups participating in the affordable housing fund from engaging in political activities. Financial Services Capital Markets Subcommittee Chairman Richard Baker, R-La., the bill's chief sponsor, recently said any group that violates that rule would be permanently banned from receiving any more of the grants.

But Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who chairs the RSC, and other members contend that language would not do enough to prevent groups like ACORN from misdirecting money from the affordable-housing fund to subsidize lobbying and political activities.

Those lawmakers are seeking language to make all organizations that engage in lobbying or election activities -- and all affiliates of those organizations -- ineligible to participate in the affordable housing fund. But House sources said Oxley and Baker oppose that language.

A House Financial Services Committee source said the RSC-favored language would prohibit charities that participate in the fund from even using their own money -- separate from the affordable housing funds -- for any type of political activities, including voter registration initiatives. "That's really quite extreme," the source said.

But the House GOP aide said that language would not infringe on housing advocates' rights to engage in political activities. "We're not saying these groups can't do what they're doing in terms of federal election activity and lobbying," the aide said. "All we're saying is if they're doing it, they can't participate in this fund. Or if they want to participate in the fund, they need to stop doing certain activities."

By Web Politics Editor  |  September 18, 2009; 6:33 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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Comments

For political correctness and expediency reasons, groups like ACORN to the left and some "religious" groups to the right have been allowed to function in the most scandously opaque manner and this must stop.

It would appear perfectly normal to me that any organization receiving federal money should be exclusively politically, racially and religiously neutral, be they left, right or center. There must also be means of following the money trail at all times since they are functioning with other people's money.

Citizens can chose the charities they fund according to beliefs - tax money must be used transparently and be completely neutral of any politics.

Posted by: sally62 | September 19, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I agree for the most part with sally62's comments. However, I have seen some religious organizations provide services in areas no government agency would touch, and do so legally and ethically.

But, it must be a requirement that anyone using federal money do so legally and ethically.

Posted by: annetta3 | September 19, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

anny orgination receiving tax money should be forbiden to politic for anny body or give them money to run on or colect money for them . i know the politicians want agree with me but they will expect pay back like acorn and the union and a lot more . they should all be barred from it

Posted by: mahye1935 | September 21, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I agree with mayhe1935 "any organizationreceiving tax money should be forbidden to politic for any body..." that should include big corporations, not-for profit health insurance companies, etc. - why should nonprofit service groups be the only target?
However, if they (corporations, etc. can have their own political action committees, I see no reason the others should be restricted from having their own PACs too.)

Posted by: idahomom1 | September 21, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but the fish rots from the head on down. Acorn has been a loose cannon for to long they use the tax payers money to help elect liberal politicians are responsible for voters fraud and weren't even embarassed about it. they are just another political ally of the liberal democratic party.what is most disturbing is obama stated in the paper today he didn't know how much money they were getting. if that is true he is either clueless or in a job way over his head. this is the man who was elected partly because he was a community activist and he doen't know how much federal aid acorn was taking in come on!!!!!

Posted by: tswank1 | September 21, 2009 9:16 PM | Report abuse

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