ACORN: A Communist Boogeyman

, Sarah Carlsruh, Leave a comment

Bertha Lewis, CEO of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), spoke at a press conference at the National Press Building on October 6th. When asked if this was meant to be an “apology tour” for the recent YouTube video scandal and voter fraud allegations, Lewis replied that it is a “set-the-record-straight tour.”

Recently, undercover journalists posing as a pimp and a prostitute received seemingly routine advice from ACORN counselors in several cities on how to evade taxes and establish housing for a brothel employing underage illegal immigrants. At the press conference, Bertha Lewis expressed her dismay at the actions of her employees, saying that “it made my stomach turn over” and said that she fired those employees who, according to Lewis, did not want to be judgmental and “thought that they were doing the right thing.”

She then heatedly accused the undercover journalists of having taken illegal actions against her organization “in order to create something sensational enough to go after us again,” and referred to the clips as “highly edited stories” that did not tell the whole truth, calling the filmmakers’ actions a form of “modern-day ACORN McCarthyism.”

Lewis further claimed that it is illegal to record someone in Maryland without their permission. The Annotated Code of Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings §10-402 does, in fact, require two-party consent whenever a conversation is taped. However, “that statute does not apply to videotape recordings—only to phone calls or other electronic communications,” argued Fox News legal expert Andrew Napolitano on September 10th.

On September 20th, Fox News reported on ACORN’s voter-fraud scandals, saying that “Dating back to as early as 2004, and as recently as last week, ACORN workers in at least nine states…have been charged with various crimes related to voter fraud. At least 50 people have been arrested in connection to ACORN-related voter fraud.”

Lewis gave her alternative explanation on why she thinks ACORN is being attacked by the media: “It was said that we were moving too many minorities to vote, changing the power dynamics on local elections dynamics.”

In 2006, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a letter to letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson and to ACORN, in light of the fact that the latter organization had “recently had four employees indicted for allegedly submitting false voter registrations in Kansas City, Missouri.” Lewis called Sen. Grassley’s report mere “allegations.”

A July 2009 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “showed that there was concern within ACORN that its voter outreach efforts, which are required to be nonpartisan, were aimed at electing Democratic candidates,” reported the Washington Post on September 19th.

In a Take AIM interview with Accuracy in Media on October 8th, ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief revealed incidences of fraud and corruption that she encountered while working for the nonprofit. “The money that was coming into Project Vote,” a non-profit organization which holds voter registration drives, “was not really going to Project Vote,” she said, adding that “ACORN and Project Vote were basically the same thing.”

As was revealed earlier this year, the New York Times chose to spike an article detailing this connection between ACORN and Obama featuring evidence provided by MonCrief. New York Times writer Stephanie Strom, who was MonCrief’s contact with the newspaper, denied that there was “any connection” between the Obama campaign and “ACORN’s voter registration drives” in an email to AIM claiming that a column “inaccurately characterizes two articles I have written.” MonCrief’s evidence later showed this to be a false statement by Strom, as her knowledge of a possible connection predated her communication with AIM.

The Washington Post also reported on September 19th that “ACORN relies on federal funds for about 10 percent of its $25 million annual budget. ACORN and allied groups have received about $53 million in federal funds since 2004.”

Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a persistent opponent of ACORN, spoke at the Heritage Foundation on October 6th and expressed indignation that more is not being done by the government to distance itself from ACORN and its scandals; she pointed out that ACORN is losing its government funding only through the end of October.

Lewis acknowledged that ACORN had been mismanaged under founder and former director Wade Rathke. On September 24th, the Washington Post reported on the “leadership shakeup last year,” writing that “Wade Rathke was pushed to resign over his role in concealing from the full board his brother’s embezzlement of ACORN money.”

Lewis was asked at the press conference whether the amount of money embezzled by the former ACORN owner’s brother Dale Rathke was $1 million, or as a Los Angeles prosecutor alleged on Monday, in excess of $5 million. In response Lewis chalked the $5 million figure up to nothing more “than two disgruntled board members” who were “voted out of the organization by the board and decided to just make up a $5 million figure.” She then claimed that the actual amount, according to an audit, was closer to one million, saying “this may not be an exact figure but I think it was $948,562.35.” MonCrief, in her interview with Take AIM, said she had heard numbers closer to $5 million from a number of ACORN board members, adding her opinion that it was at least “more than a million dollars.”

ACORN has been “inflated as the boogeyman,” claimed Lewis at the press club, calling the persistent accusations against ACORN “political attacks.”

Sarah Carlsruh is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.