ACORN: A Rotten Nut Gets Caught

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ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is a community organization that was created to help low to moderate income households by providing housing aid and by boosting political involvement among these groups. It is now under scrutiny after being accused of questionable behavior involving child prostitution, political corruption, tax evasion and human trafficking.

At an ACORN office in New York, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, two conservative bloggers, dressed up as a pimp and prostitute in a sting operation. While filming with a concealed camera, O’Keefe and Giles asked ACORN for advice on using government money to buy a house for a brothel that was going to be staffed with underage Latin American girls. The ACORN employee is taped suggesting that the two should purchase a house with a large back yard for the purpose of burying their illicit profits.

At another ACORN office in San Bernardino, California, Giles once again played the prostitute, but O’Keefe played a young, up and coming politician that wanted to use the underage brothel as a way to pay for his campaign. The employee seemed unfazed and actually encouraged the politician to use violence on the underage women to extract their compliance. She even candidly admitted that she had also been a prostitute and knew ways to hide the profits and avoid suspicion from the law.

O’Keefe and Giles then uploaded these videos onto their Web site, biggovernment.com, in an effort to expose their actions on a larger scale. The media has always been lenient toward ACORN, and therefore it is no surprise that the media chose to keep this story under wraps, until Fox News eventually broke the story.

The Republicans rallied around this topic, using it as the perfect opportunity to strengthen their support after months of licking their wounds over their unsuccessful 2008 election. Republicans have been unrelenting in pressuring the Democratic Party to take action. Last week, in a vote of 83-7, the House of Representatives decided to withhold all public funding to ACORN and agreed to investigate the organization.

ACORN has taken action in the aftermath of the fall out. But so far they have only been concerned with denouncing claims of corruption instead of working to ensure that this will not occur again. Although ACORN fired the employees that were caught on tape, this is not the same as remedying the disease; they are just cutting away the infected flesh. ACORN cannot completely ignore the deep systematic problems within their organization. The problems are systemic. ACORN itself has appointed an attorney to investigate the claims of corruption on its behalf. Allegations of corruption have been reported in various locations throughout the country, including Washington, Baltimore, New York and California.

On Thursday, ACORN filed a lawsuit against O’Keefe and Giles, requesting, “a preliminary and permanent injunction against further distribution.” ACORN, in an attempt to shift the focus from the claims of corruption, has instead decided to lay the blame at Giles and O’Keefe for violating its rights. Nowhere in their lawsuit does it seem to show that they assume accountability. Instead, they decided to cover themselves politically and leveled allegations of manipulation of the video so that it showed false information.

President Barack Obama, who served as one of a few lawyers representing ACORN in a lawsuit in 1995 before becoming president, has cleverly skirted the issue by claiming that he had no knowledge of the scandal or the amount of public funds that were allocated. Although he supports an investigation, he did not specify who should be held responsible.

Based on this single event, one could have a reasonable doubt regarding the corruption within ACORN, citing these few events as accidents that are unrepresentative of the organization overall. However, this was not the first time that ACORN was involved in controversy.

During the 2008 general election, ACORN was accused of voter registration fraud after nearly 1.3 million forms that came from the organization were rejected – many of which contained names of cartoon characters and football players. Supporters of ACORN have belittled this problem by reassuring the public that no one should worry about Mickey Mouse going to the voting booth. What they failed to recognize was that there is a deeper problem than what is on the surface. It is a complete lack of respect for the government and its rules. Instead of working with the government, they are working above it.

In 2006, high-ranking officials within ACORN were charged with the embezzlement of nearly $1 million from the organization and other affiliated entities. Leading up to the embezzlement, not only was ACORN aware of Dale Rathke’s crimes, but they also considered the situation as an internal matter and denied and attempted to cover up any forms of corruption while keeping Rathke on the payroll.

Many different opinions have arisen as to whether the House’s decision to cut funds from ACORN is justified. Congressman Darrell E. Issa from California suggested that public funds should be cut for the time being.

“As long as taxpayers are subsidizing ACORN and its affiliates, we need to use every measure possible to ensure that those dollars are being spent and managed appropriately,” he said.

Whether or not ACORN is defunded, they should at least be held accountable for every dollar spent, especially when it is the tax payer paying the bill.

Sophia Solis is fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at sophias@uci.edu.

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