RICO Probe of ACORN Needed Now

A federal racketeering probe into the activities of the radical activist group ACORN is all the more urgent after the recent filing of felony election fraud charges against the group and ex-employees this month in Nevada and Pennsylvania.  

And this time the spin doctors at ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), known for its bank sit-ins and illegal squat-ins at homes slated for foreclosure, can’t hide behind the specious excuse that Republicans were behind the push to prosecute because, this time, all of its accusers are Democrats.  

Two of them, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller and Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto, announced May 4 that the community-organizing group itself and two of its former senior employees in the state were charged with a total of 39 felony counts related to fraudulent voter registrations. This is apparently the first time that the ACORN organization itself has been charged with election-related fraud.  

Later that first week in May, Allegheny County, Pa., District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., also a Democrat, unveiled seven charges against former ACORN workers for falsifying voter registration forms.  

Nevada alleges that last year ACORN paid canvassers between $8 and $9 an hour to register people to vote, but canvassers who fell short of the quota of 20 voter registration forms per shift got canned. The illegal policy was “clearly outlined in the training materials the organization used to train new employees,” state officials said.  

Nevada claims ACORN also offered a bonus program called “Blackjack” or “21+” that paid a $5 bonus to each canvasser who brought in 21 or more completed voter registration forms per shift. Such schemes are banned in the state because they give canvassers an incentive to file fraudulent forms.  

Nevada claims the bonus program “was created by employee Christopher Edwards, the field director for the Las Vegas office,” and that ACORN timesheets prove the group’s management not only knew about it but “failed to take immediate action to terminate it.” The state claims that ACORN’s Deputy Regional Director Amy Busefink “aided and abetted the scheme by approving” it.  

Conyers Drops Probe

Pittsburgh DA Zappala announced May 7 that ACORN canvassers had been charged with 51 election-fraud counts including forgery and falsification of voter records. Two of the canvassers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the group’s management required workers to meet a quota or be fired.  

Incredibly, the same week that all this happened, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D.-Mich.) suddenly changed his mind and dropped a congressional probe of ACORN that he had promised just weeks before.  

“Based on my review of the information regarding the complaints against ACORN, I have concluded that a hearing on this matter appears unwarranted at this time,” Conyers said in a one-sentence prepared statement. His spokesman refused to elaborate.  

What a difference a few weeks seems to have made.  

A month and a half earlier, on March 19, Conyers heard dramatic testimony that the nonprofit group offered protest-for-hire services for other left-wing groups and extracted donations from the corporate targets of demonstrations by shaking down those targets as part of its “muscle for the money” program. He also heard the group violated a mountain of tax, campaign-finance and other laws, and called the various allegations “a pretty serious matter.” He even urged a reluctant Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D.-N.Y.) to hold a subcommittee hearing regarding ACORN.  

We are all left to wonder what happened to the enthusiasm the 23-term congressman from Detroit had previously shown for holding an ACORN hearing.  

It had been difficult, however, to believe back then that the ultra-liberal Conyers, who as recently as October had called the radical group “a longstanding and well-regarded organization that fights for the poor and working class,” really wanted to probe his longtime ally in the progressive movement.  

For his years of service in the class struggle, Conyers received a 100% rating from ACORN in its 2006 legislative scorecard. Conyers has long been sympathetic to the goals of ACORN, which grew out of the far-left welfare-rights movement of the 1960s.  

At ACORN’s national convention last June, Conyers sounded like Bill Ayers. “I’m through with deregulation,” Conyers said. “It doesn’t work because the capitalist predators who are waiting unregulated are going to take advantage of it.”  

Conyers’ flip-flop on the ACORN probe caught the attention of national media figures who don’t normally spend much time on the activist group in the electoral off-season. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, G. Gordon Liddy, and Jerome Corsi have all been pursuing the ACORN story in recent weeks with renewed vigor.  

This is extraordinary because normally the national news media lavish attention on ACORN only during election campaigns, and even then they tend to focus narrowly on vote fraud-related issues, which represent only a tiny fraction of ACORN’s shady operations.  

Eligible for Stimulus Money  

But with its vast network of more than 100 tax-exempt nonprofit affiliates and mounting evidence of wrongdoing, ACORN is becomingly difficult to ignore.  

ACORN and similar left-wing nonprofit advocacy groups will be eligible this year for up to $3 billion in federal funding from President Obama’s stimulus package and a separate $5.5 billion set-aside for grants in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fiscal 2010 budget.  

ACORN also wants to receive federal funds to help count the population as part of the 2010 U.S. Census. Former ACORN organizer Gregory Hall wrote in a recent Washington Examiner op-ed that Americans are “rightly worried about the prospect of taxpayer money flowing” to the “scandal-plagued” group.  

The group has been implicated by former officials and employees in schemes involving election fraud, extortion, mail fraud, and campaign-finance violations. The network, a tangled mess of interlocking directorates and affiliated organizations that routinely swap seven-figure checks, owes millions of dollars in back taxes and may also be involved in money laundering and who knows what else.  

There is no question that ACORN founder Wade Rathke’s brother Dale embezzled close to $1 million from the group around 2000 and that management covered up the theft for eight years. When it was discovered, the Rathke brothers were expelled from the group and both were supposed to sever all ties to ACORN.  

Yet Wade Rathke remains on the boards of at least three ACORN affiliates, including New Orleans-based Local 100 of Service Employees International Union, ACORN International Inc. (a nonprofit group that aspires to spread the gospel of Saul Alinsky across the globe), and Affiliated Media Foundation Movement Inc. (which helps to start leftist community radio and TV stations). The SEIU local, which serves Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, even re-elected Rathke as its troublemaker-in-chief in November.  

When ACORN national board members Karen Inman and Marcel Reid were appointed last summer to investigate the embezzlement, management of the association stonewalled, refusing to hand over financial documents. By the fall the two had been unceremoniously booted from the board for asking too many questions. They created a dissident group, ACORN 8, to fight for reform within the organization, and are urging the federal government to stop funding the group until it opens its ledgers for inspection. They are also urging ACORN’s 400,000 members to withhold their annual membership dues of up to $120 until the books are opened.  

Members of the ACORN 8 claim that ACORN, which is reportedly under investigation by the FBI and at least a dozen states, is an active, ongoing criminal enterprise whose primary business consists of shakedowns. They want federal prosecutors to consider civil and criminal charges under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and have delivered petitions to U.S. attorneys across the nation.  

They deserve their day in court.