The organization ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) has been in existence since 1970, founded by Wade Rathke in Arkansas.
ACORN's goal, according to the organization's history, was “to unite welfare recipients with working people in need around issues of free school lunches for school children, unemployed workers' concerns, Vietnam veterans' rights and hospital emergency room care.” Its broad vision "as a movement to unify the powerless in pursuit of economic justice" was not shared by all the members, and it became a coalition of many groups.
ACORN operates as a tax exempt organization.
ACORN exploded into the news this week with the airing of undercover interviews made by activist filmmaker James O'Keefe and his assistant, "aspiring journalist" Hannah Giles.
O'Keefe passed himself off as a "pimp" while introducing his partner, scantily clad Hanna Giles, as a prostitute. The interviews were held in offices of ACORN Housing Corporation in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and San Bernardino, Calif.
In the interviews, both O'Keefe and Giles "bluntly" described themselves as pimp and prostitute. There apparently was no misunderstanding between themselves and the ACORN representatives.
In conversations reported in the New York Post on Sept. 14, the ACORN loan administrator in the Brooklyn, N.Y., office, Milagros Rivera, offered this advice to the potential home buyers: "Honesty is not going to get you the house," and "Don't call yourself a prostitute or whatever; refer to yourself as a performance artist." Also, "What goes on in the house we don't care. We just help you with the mortgage."
O'Keefe and Giles noted the ACORN workers were not the slightest bit judgmental or put off by the request to help in getting financing for a brothel.
In the video, ACORN counselor Volda Albert "freely" offered financial advice to the young couple. "I can't tell you don't do it, because you won't listen to me," Albert said.
Albert went on to suggest that, for tax and banking purposes and to establish a legitimate income and credit history, Giles needed to start saying she was a "freelancer."
The video depicts Albert suggesting that Giles open two accounts in separate banks, depositing no more than $500 a week in each to ensure few eyebrows are raised. As for the rest of the money earned from turning tricks, she should hide it. "When you buy the house with a back yard, get a tin and bury it down in there, and you put the money right in, and you put grass over it, and don't tell a single soul but yourself where it is," Albert said.
When O'Keefe and Giles tell the ACORN staff that they are smuggling teenage girls from El Salvador to work as prostitutes, the ACORN staff tells them the girls could be called “exchange students,” that they must be enrolled in school and that Giles can list some of the girls as dependents on her tax returns, claiming tax credits for them — but only three, because of her age. Listing more would raise questions by the authorities, she is told.
O'Keefe, 25, and Giles, 20, are part of an independent filmmaking team specializing in housing and voter activism. O'Keefe, who majored in philosophy at Rutgers University, and Giles funded the project themselves.
ACORN has been in the news since the presidential election of 2008 when the organization was accused of widespread voter fraud in assisting some 30,000 unqualified voters to register. Investigations are under way in more than half the states in the nation and convictions have been handed down in at least a dozen of these states.
Pressure is mounting for a complete review of the activities of ACORN.
According to the Washington Examiner, “at least $53 million in federal funds have gone to ACORN activists since 1994, and the controversial group could get up to $8.5 billion more tax dollars . . . The economic stimulus bill enacted in February contains $3 billion that the non-profit activist group . . . could receive, and 2010 federal budget contains another $5.5 billion that could also find its way into the group’s coffers.”
The Senate voted 83-7 on Sept. 14 to cut off all grants to ACORN from the Housing and Urban Development program. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, called for a "thorough" investigation of ACORN, commenting, "such an investigation would serve as a basis for determining not only whether ACORN is worthy of receiving other federal funds this year, but ever again."
In addition, Shelby wrote a letter to President Barack Obama outlining his position.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., suggested Sept. 15 that he would consider a similar type of investigation of ACORN for the House, calling the ACORN workers' actions "despicable."
Charles Hymes, Brooklyn district attorney, has launched an investigation of ACORN activities.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced it was severing all its relationships with ACORN on Sept. 18. The bureau had hired workers and contracted to take part in the upcoming census.
ACORN announced on Sept. 11 that it had fired the four ACORN employees involved in the undercover videos.
E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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