On Monday, June 14, a preliminary probe by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of ACORN has found no evidence the association or related organizations mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years.
A review of grants by nine federal agencies found no problems with ACORN's grants. In my new book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group, I document how ACORN, the largest most successful national anti poverty organization in America, was forced to close its door.
The GAO, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, is often called the "congressional watchdog." It investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.
The GAO interviewed and obtained documentation from grant program managers and staff from nine agencies; NeighborWorks, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Department of Homeland Security and (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Most of the grants were for housing-related purposes during fiscal years 2005 through 2009.
Nearly two dozen members of Congress requested an investigation after a series of complaints against ACORN and its affiliates. The complaints included an embezzlement matter, several cases of voter registration fraud, and the release of edited and misleading videotapes, secretly made by conservative activists that appeared to implicate ACORN workers in several offices facilitating prostitution. In fact the staff in most of ACORN's offices turned the pair away, reported the couple to the police, refused to provide them any aid, and in one case tried to convince the phony prostitute to get counseling. In no ACORN office did employees file any paperwork or do anything illegal on the duo's behalf.
But Fox News broadcasted the deceptive tapes nearly around the clock for several days defaming ACORN.
While Republicans in Congress, who for years had accused ACORN of corruption, used the phony tapes to lead an effort to successfully strip the group of federal funding in 2009. Months later the group was exonerated from any wrongdoing by every official and independent investigation.
After the broadcast of the videotapes on Fox and CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post inaccurately reported that the ACORN workers in several offices facilitated prostitution. The papers also reported that O'Keefe was dressed up in a cartoonish pimp garb when he entered the ACORN offices, when he actually wore a dress shirt and slacks and identified himself as a student or friend of the young woman who posed as a prostitute. As a result of the conservative's smear campaign and the media's erroneous reporting of the smears as true, the U. S. Congress defunded ACORN, which led to many of its funders and allies to withdraw their support.
An independent investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office and the Attorney General of California vindicated ACORN of any wrongdoing. A federal judge ruled that the law barring the group's receipt of federal funds was unconstitutional. Although Acorn had internal problems, it has never been convicted of wrongdoing. I capture the story of this incident as well as the history ACORN in my book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group. What happened to Acorn is one of the most bizarre incidents in recent history.
One of the activists, James O'Keefe recently pleaded guilty to charges of entering federal property under false pretenses when he attempted to embarrass Senator Mary Landrieu because of her support for national health care legislation. Acorn has never been convicted a crime. But the right wing activist trying to entrap Acorn's intake staff into committing an unlawful act, becomes a criminal.