ACORN's October Surprise

Like a zombie in a horror movie, ACORN is alive! Even worse, it’s still in the business of registering Mickey Mouse and dead people to vote—and the person running its get-out-the-vote operation is under indictment for felony voter registration fraud.

But first, some background. 

The radical group staged an elaborate prank on April Fool’s Day by pretending to die. That’s when chief organizer Bertha Lewis said ACORN would dissolve its national structure. But the group still exists and continues to send out direct mail solicitations for funds.

Disturbingly, Project Vote, ACORN’s scandal-plagued voter registration and mobilization division, remains open for business. Project Vote has been part of the ACORN family since at least 1992 when Barack Obama ran a successful voter drive in Illinois. 

Although legally separate entities, in practice the two are the same, as the congressional testimony of former ACORN/Project Vote employee Anita MonCrief can attest. They share office space, employees, and budgets. Project Vote continues to operate out of ACORN’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Even worse, its voter drive is being run by Amy Busefink, an ACORN employee under indictment in Nevada for violating election laws. It might be understandable for an employer not to fire an employee until she is actually convicted of a crime, but this is ridiculous. Busefink should not be running a voter drive.

Busefink’s official Project Vote biography says: “As Project Vote’s Field Director, Amy Busefink is responsible for the development and execution of field activities across Project Vote’s many program areas … Over the last two years, Ms. Busefink has participated in the successful fight against legislation that creates barriers to voters, including photo ID efforts in Missouri. She continues to develop voter participation and voter registration field programs, utilizing new and exciting technology for Get-Out-the-Vote efforts.”

The bio adds that Busefink “came to Project Vote as its national voter registration director in June 2006, when she assumed responsibility for Project Vote’s 2006 voter registration program.” She also “ran field operations for Project Votes [sic] 2008 voter registration program, which collected 1.1 million applications.” [emphasis added]

ACORN and Project Vote did collect more than one million voter registration applications in 2008, but 400,000 applications “were rejected by election officials for a variety of reasons, including duplicate registrations, incomplete forms and fraudulent submissions,” the New York Times reported.

Why does Project Vote acknowledge on its website that a potential felon is running its GOTV effort? (ACORN has a habit of scrubbing its digital tracks so I made a screen grab as a backup just in case.)

Perhaps ACORN thinks no one will notice that Busefink has been indicted for criminal election law violations in Nevada.

In May 2009, Nevada Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and Secretary of State Ross Miller, both Democrats, made public charges against two senior ACORN employees—Busefink, ACORN’s deputy regional director at the time, and Christopher Edwards, then ACORN’s Las Vegas field director. Both were implicated in a conspiracy in which they and ACORN as a corporate entity were charged. Edwards pleaded guilty and has turned state’s evidence. The trial of ACORN and Busefink is scheduled to begin on November 26.

The state’s charges list 26 felony counts of voter fraud and 13 of providing unlawful extra compensation to those registering voters, a practice forbidden under Nevada law because it incentivizes fraud. Canvassers were allegedly paid between $8 and $9 an hour and based on a quota of 20 voters per shift. 

“From July 27 through Oct. 2, ACORN also provided additional compensation under a bonus program called ‘Blackjack’ or ‘21+’ that was based on the total number of voters a person registered.” Canvassers bringing in 21 or more completed forms per day would receive a $5 bonus. The complaint says Edwards created the illegal bonus scheme and that “ACORN timesheets indicate that corporate officers of ACORN were aware of the Blackjack bonus program and failed to take immediate action to stop it.” 

Inside sources say Project Vote is lying low during the current election cycle and plans to return in full force for President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012. Earlier this year, I was told that Project Vote was having a banner year despite ACORN’s troubles and may be raking in more money than in 2008 when it reported receiving $14,635,002 in contributions and grants.

Project Vote is working with eight groups on voter drives. One is Pennsylvania Neighborhoods for Social Justice (PNSJ), a “new” group operating out of ACORN’s offices in Philadelphia. Longtime ACORN national board member Carol Hemingway is on the board of PNSJ and its sister nonprofit, Pennsylvania Communities Organizing for Change (PCOC).

Although ACORN closed many of its offices, Lewis has been working with a skeleton staff. Congressional investigators say she is consolidating power and hoarding assets. They estimate ACORN has $20 million in cash and that its affiliates hold another $10 million. 

ACORN plans to resurface under a new name soon, according to John Atlas, author of Seeds of Change, a book sympathetic to ACORN. ACORN chapters in at least 13 states and the District of Columbia changed their names and obtained separate nonprofit status. 

In related news, the Obama Administration is stonewalling Capital Research Center’s Freedom of Information Act request that seeks correspondence between HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and ACORN. HUD FOIA requests must be answered within 45 days but our request has been pending for seven months. 

The request was filed because Donovan is a longtime ally of ACORN. He worked closely with ACORN for five years when he was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Housing Development commissioner but as HUD secretary the word ACORN never escapes his lips.

“Perhaps no administration official has had more interaction with ACORN than” Donovan, the New York Times reported (Oct. 16, 2009). ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis admitted as much. “We grew to respect him, and he grew to respect us.”