Friday, October 9, 2009

In Defense of ACORN

By Bill Press

Quick! What's the most important issue facing this country?

If you watch Fox News, you have no doubt. It's not health-care reform, the economy, global warming, Afghanistan, or swine flu. All Fox loyalists know that the greatest crisis facing America is: ACORN!

It is a dangerous organization, indeed. Just look at what ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — has been up to since its founding in 1970. Today the largest community organizing operation in the nation, ACORN has long been fighting for free school lunches, better housing, safer streets, urban parks, childcare centers, health-care clinics, jobs, and higher wages. It also conducts voter registration drives and has led several successful efforts against predatory lending practices by banks.

Now, some fuzzy-minded liberals might applaud those programs as attempts to improve the lives of inner-city poor and middle-class residents. But Fox leaders recognize them for what they really are: the kind of disloyal, subversive, un-American activities you'd expect from a bunch of commies with ties to Barack Obama. Horrors! They're community organizers, just like he is.

Fox, in fact, has raised such a stink about ACORN that both the House and Senate have passed legislation cutting the organization off from any future federal funds. But that's not enough. Fox is also insisting, and servile Republican leaders in Washington echo their call, that both the Senate and House conduct full-scale congressional hearings on ACORN's operations.

So, let's get this straight. Republicans, who oppose any investigation into the CIA's illegal use of torture, demand a full investigation of ACORN? Republicans, who looked the other way after the widespread abuse of taxpayer dollars in Iraq by the mighty Halliburton, now want to bring the full power of the Congress down on little ACORN? And Fox anchors Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, as documented by Media Matters for America, are 24 times more likely to discuss ACORN than the lobbying scandals that sent Republicans Jack Abramoff and Bob Ney to prison?

Give me a break. What a total waste of time and energy. There's only one reason why Fox and subservient Republicans continue to beat the drum about ACORN: because they see it as one more way of undermining President Obama.

In fact, Obama's ties to ACORN are marginal, at best, and ACORN's sins are far less serious than Fox would have you believe.

Back in 1995, when Obama was still practicing law, he represented the organization in its lawsuit to force Illinois to comply with the federal Motor Voter Act. He once led two, one-hour training sessions for its staff. ACORN endorsed him for president and during the 2008 primaries, the Obama campaign hired an ACORN-affiliated organization, Citizen Services Inc., to conduct get-out-the-vote drives.

As for ACORN, like any organization with more than 1,000 staffers, it's had its share of problems over the years. Two of which, on voter registration and tax preparation, have been blown way out of proportion by Fox and friends — and most of the mainstream media.

On voter registration. A recent study of ACORN news coverage, conducted by professors Christopher R. Martin and Peter Dreier, identified 647 newspaper and broadcast news stories in 2007 and 2008 on allegations of massive voter registration fraud against the organization. Yet 83 percent of those stories failed to mention that actual evidence of voter fraud turned out to be practically nonexistent. Remember? That's why Karl Rove had so many U.S. attorneys fired. Because he ordered them to find cases of voter fraud to prosecute, and they couldn't find any!

On tax help. Recently, several ACORN staffers were caught in a right-wing sting video offering advice on how to convince the IRS that their pimp and prostitution operation was a legitimate business. Stupid! But most news organizations never followed up to report that those employees were immediately fired, that two ACORN offices actually reported the phony clients to the police, and that ACORN has since hired the former attorney general of Massachusetts to conduct a full in-house investigation.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau, the IRS, and the Justice Department, among other federal agencies, have said they will not enter into any further contracts with ACORN until they're sure the organization has cleaned up its act.

There is, in other words, no need for alarm or congressional hearings. But there is a need to put one thing in perspective: ACORN's monumental good work over the last 39 years far, far outweighs its few mistakes.

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