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{{Infobox Organization
name = Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
image = ACORN.svg
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caption =
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abbreviation = ACORN
motto =
formation = 1970
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type = Non-governmental organization
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purpose =
headquarters = New Orleans, Louisianamarker
location =
region_served = USAmarker, Perumarker, Argentinamarker, Mexicomarker, Indiamarker, Canadamarker
membership =
language =
leader_title = CEO
leader_name = Bertha Lewis (2008–present)
main_organ =
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num_staff =
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budget = $25 Million USD, 10% federal funding
website = www.acorn.org
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The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a collection of community-based organizations in the United Statesmarker that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN has over 400,000 members and more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S., as well as in Argentinamarker, Canadamarker, Mexicomarker, and Perumarker. ACORN was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado. Maude Hurd has been National President since 1990; Bertha Lewis was appointed CEO in 2008.

ACORN's priorities have included: better housing and wages for the poor, more community development investment from banks and governments, better public schools, and other social justice issues. ACORN pursues these goals through demonstration, negotiation, lobbying for legislation, and voter participation. ACORN comprises a number of legally distinct non-profit entities including a nationwide umbrella organization established as a 501 that performs lobbying; local chapters established as 501 nonpartisan charities; and the ACORN Housing Corporation. These entities support labor-oriented causes.

ACORN has been the subject of public controversy over embezzlement, management fights, voter registration fraud and other misconduct committed by its workers.

Issues and actions

Predatory lending and affordable housing

ACORN investigates complaints against companies accused of predatory lending practices. ACORN also works to support strict state laws against predatory practices, organizes against foreclosure rescue scams, and steers borrowers toward loan counseling; Following a three-year campaign, Household International (now owned by HSBC Holdings and renamed HSBC Finance Corporation), one of the largest subprime lenders in the country, and ACORN announced on November 25, 2003 a proposed settlement of a 2002 national class-action lawsuit brought by ACORN. The settlement created a $72 million foreclosure avoidance program to provide relief to household borrowers who are at risk of losing their homes. The settlement came on the heels of an earlier $484 million settlement between Household, Attorneys General, and bank regulators from all 50 US states.

ACORN and its affiliates advocate for affordable housing by urging the development, rehabilitation and establishment of housing trust funds at the local, state, and federal levels. The group also pushes for enforcement of affordable-housing requirements for developers and promotes programs to help homeowners repair their homes and organize tenant demands.

An ACORN official voiced support for a proposal Hillary Clinton made during the presidential primary election to create a federal fund for distressed homeowners.

Living wages



Living wage ordinances require private businesses that do business with the government to pay their workers a wage that enables them to afford basic necessities. ACORN has helped pass local living wage laws in 15 cities including Chicagomarker, Oaklandmarker, Denvermarker, and New York Citymarker. ACORN maintains a website that provides strategic and logistical assistance to organizations nationwide.

Katrina relief

ACORN members across the country, particularly in the Gulf region, have organized fundraising and organizing drives to ensure that victims of Hurricane Katrina will receive assistance and will be able to return to affected areas. ACORN's home cleanout demonstration program has gutted and rebuilt over 1850 homes with the help of volunteers. The ACORN Katrina Survivors Association formed in the aftermath of the storm is the first nationwide organization for Katrina survivors and has been working for equitable treatment for victims. Displaced citizens were bused into the city for the New Orleansmarker primary and general elections. ACORN says its Housing Services have helped more than 2000 homeowners affected by the storm and is an official planner working with the city on reconstruction.

Education

ACORN pushes education reform usually in the form of organizing neighborhood groups and "community" or "ACORN schools". In Chicagomarker, ACORN has advocated for a certified teacher to be in every classroom. In Californiamarker, ACORN has documented the need for textbooks and school repairs. ACORN works with teachers unions to get money for school construction and more funding for schools. ACORN also supports school reform and the "creation of alternative public schools" such as charter schools. ACORN opposed the privatization of some NYC schools, favoring its own Charter School plan. The ACORN model for schools emphasizes small classes, parent involvement, qualified teachers and "community-oriented curricula".

Voter registration

ACORN has conducted large-scale voter registration drives since at least the 1980s, focusing primarily on poor and minority citizens. During the 2008 election season, ACORN gathered over 1.3 million voter registration forms in 21 states. Many of these registration forms were flagged by ACORN's internal auditors for election official review, with approximately 400,000 being ultimately rejected as incomplete, duplicated or fraudulent. 450,000 of the registrations represented first-time voters, while the remainder were classified as address change forms.

As required by law in most states, ACORN must submit all registration forms collected by its workers, including those flagged by ACORN as incomplete or suspicious. Fraudulent voter registrations are investigated at local, state, and federal levels, and have sometimes resulted in criminal convictions for ACORN employees. ACORN has fired employees for fraudulent registration practices and turned them over to authorities. As of 2006 ACORN was improving its fraud detection and reporting procedures, and cooperating with authorities in efforts to prosecute violators. Jeff Ordower, ACORN's Midwest Director, observed, "There is no scenario where those people on problematic cards would show up at the polls." Of 26,513 registrations submitted by ACORN over a nine-month period in San Diego County, Californiamarker, 4,655 were initially flagged, but 2,806 of those were later validated - a seven percent error rate - compared to usually less than five percent for voter drives by other organizations, according to county officials. In a case in Washington statemarker where 7 temporary employees of ACORN were charged with submitting fraudulent voter registrations, ACORN agreed to pay King Countymarker $25,000 for its investigative costs and acknowledged that the national organization could be subject to criminal prosecution if fraud occurs again. According to the prosecutor, the misconduct was done "as an easy way to get paid [by ACORN], not as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections." In August, 2009, A former ACORN field director in Las Vegas pled guilty to "conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters" in connection with a quota system for paid registration staff. In November, 2009, the former ACORN official, Christopher Edwards was sentenced to a year's probation and agreed to testify for prosecutors in charges against ACORN and against an ACORN regional director.

Gun control

In 2006, ACORN intervened on behalf of Jersey Citymarker, New Jerseymarker in a lawsuit brought against the city challenging a local ordinance that limited individuals' handgun purchases to one gun a month. The Hudson Countymarker Superior Court struck down the ordinance on the grounds that it violated the New Jersey Constitution's Equal Protection clause, and a state statute prohibiting towns and municipalities from enacting firearms legislation.

On September 29, 2008, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division denied ACORN's appeal of the Hudson County Superior Court's decision striking down Jersey City's ordinance.

Home Defender Program

In 2009, ACORN advocated allowing homeowners delinquent in their mortgage payments to remain in their homes pending a government solution to the housing foreclosure crisis. ACORN introduced a program called the Home Defender Program, intended to mobilize people to congregate at homes faced with foreclosure to "defend a family's right to stay in their homes." One ACORN Web page advocated civil disobedience against foreclosure evictions stating that people in foreclosed homes should refuse to leave, and in some cases, move back in.

History

1970–1975: Founding

Wade Rathke, founded ACORN in 1970, after the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) sent him to Little Rock, Arkansasmarker as an organizer. Rathke had previously dropped out of Williams College to promote draft resistance for Students for a Democratic Society. Gary Delgado and George Wiley were also instrumental in its founding. ACORN's first campaign was to help welfare recipients attain their basic needs, such as clothing and furniture. This drive, inspired by a clause in the Arkansasmarker welfare laws, began the effort to create and sustain a movement that would grow to become the Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now, the beginnings of ACORN.

ACORN's goal was to "unite welfare recipients with needy working people around issues such as school lunches, unemployment, Vietnam veterans' rights, and emergency room care."

1975–1980: Growth beyond Arkansas

In 1975, ACORN created branches in Texasmarker and South Dakotamarker. On December 13, 1975, sixty leaders from the three ACORN states elected the first associate Executive Board and the first ACORN president, Steve McDonald, to deal with matters beyond the scope of the individual city and state boards. Each year thereafter saw three or more states join ACORN, building to a total of 20 states by 1980. This expansion led to multi-state campaigns beginning with a mass meeting of 1,000 members in Memphismarker in 1978. At the end of the conference, ACORN convention delegates marched on the Democratic Party conference with the outline of a nine-point "People’s Platform" which would go on to become the foundation of ACORN's platform when it was ratified in 1979.

ACORN was active in the 1980 Election with the "People's Platform" serving as its standard. It led demonstrations aimed at both major party candidates; demanded to meet with President Jimmy Carter; marched on the president's campaign finance committee chair's home; and presented its platform to the Republican Party platform committee.

1980–1988: ACORN in the Reagan era

By 1980, ACORN’s staff was stretched thin by the demands of meeting its expansion goals. Much of its resources and energy had been dedicated to the presidential primaries and national party conventions. ACORN launched squatting campaigns in an attempt to obtain affordable housing, and encouraged squatters to refit the premises for comfortable living.

In June 1982 ACORN sponsored "Reagan Ranches" in over 35 cities believing the president's focus to be on military as opposed to social spending. These tent cities were erected for two days and were met with resistance from the National Park Service, which tried repeatedly to evict the tenters. The protesters remained and then marched on the White Housemarker and testified before a Congressional committee about what they described as the housing crisis in America. The last Reagan Ranch was held at the Republican Convention in Dallasmarker in 1984.

In addition to protesting, ACORN also developed and strengthened its political action committees and encouraged its members to run for office. For the 1984 election ACORN wanted to endorse a candidate, setting a 75% support in polls among members as its requirement. No candidate reached that level, though there was strong support for Jesse Jackson. ACORN also established a legislative office that year in Washington, DCmarker. During this period ACORN also focused on local election reform in a number of cities, including Pittsburghmarker, Columbia, South Carolinamarker, and Sioux Falls, South Dakotamarker, encouraging the change of at-large legislative bodies to district representation.

ACORN grew to 27 states, adding chapters in New York Citymarker, Washington, DCmarker, and Chicago, Illinoismarker by the end of Reagan's first term.

During the 1988 Election ACORN held its National Convention in the same city as the Democratic Convention — Atlanta, Georgiamarker. During the preceding four years ACORN had strengthened its ties with Jesse Jackson and accounted for 30 Jackson delegates. It also sponsored a march at the convention.

ACORN's membership grew to 70,000 plus in 28 states during this time. It increased its legislative lobbying efforts in Washington, DC, and strengthened its Political Action Committees (PACs). It also developed what it called the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM). Starting with station KNON in Dallas, AM/FM moved on to establish radio stations, UHF television and cable television programming. It also sought and received appointments to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) which was formed to dissolve the assets of failed Savings and Loans resulting from the Savings and Loan crisis.

1988–1998: Focus on housing

While some of ACORN’s most notable efforts were in the area of housing, it has counted health, public safety, education, representation, work and workers’ rights and communications concerns among its victories.

The 1990 ACORN convention in Chicago focused on the fast-breaking housing campaign. It featured a squatting demonstration at an RTC house. Later, ACORN members demanded cooperation from banks about providing loan data on low- and moderate-income communities and compliance with the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

ACORN fought weakening of the CRA in 1991, staging a two-day takeover of the House Banking Committee hearing room. It also established ACORN Housing Corporation to service people moving into homes under the housing campaign, rehabilitated hundreds of houses addressed by CRA.

The ACORN convention in New York in 1992, called the "ACORN-Bank Summit", was organized to make deals with giant banks. When Citibank, the nation’s largest bank, did not participate, conventioneers protested at its downtown Manhattanmarker headquarters, and won a meeting to negotiate for similar programs.

ACORN supported and lobbied for the "Motor Voter" Act. After its passage, ACORN members attended President Clinton’s signing ceremony. ACORN then pursued new registration laws in Arkansas and Massachusettsmarker and filed suit in Illinoismarker, Louisianamarker, Michiganmarker, Missourimarker, New Jerseymarker, and Pennsylvaniamarker as a result of the act.

In 1993, ACORN also began a national campaign to fight insurance redlining, a practice that put the gains made in other housing campaigns at risk. The campaign targeted Allstate, hitting sales offices in 14 cities and a stockholders meeting. Allstate agreed to negotiate and signed an agreement in 1994 for a $10 million partnership with ACORN and NationsBank for below-market mortgages to low-income homebuyers. Travelers Insurance agreed to a Neighborhood and Home Safety Program, linking access to insurance and lower rates to public safety programs.

1998–2009: Building capacity

ACORN's subsequent activities have included its "Living Wage" programs, voter registration, and grassroots political organization.

In 1998 ACORN helped form the Working Families Party in New Yorkmarker which counts increasing the minimum wage as its centerpiece issue.

A March 27, 2003 decision of the National Labor Relations Board found that ACORN attempted to thwart union organizing efforts within its own organization by laying off two workers who were attempting to organize. The two workers, both field organizers with ACORN, began discussions with the Service Employees International Union and later sought to organize under Industrial Workers of the World in response to their $20,200 annual salary for a 54-hour work week. The NLRB ordered the two employees be reinstated in their former jobs and ACORN cease from interrogating employees about organizing activity. ACORN has since strengthened its ties with the Service Employees International Union, which donated $2.1 million to ACORN in 2005, often working collaboratively on issues (including health insurance costs and the minimum wage) and sharing office space.

In 2004, Florida ACORN helped to raise Florida's minimum wage by $1.00 an hour by lobbying for a minimum wage amendment to be placed on the ballot. Over 1 million Florida employees were affected by the raise, which is adjusted annually for inflation. That year, ACORN become an international organization, opening offices in Canadamarker, Perumarker, and beginning work in Dominican Republicmarker. Since then offices have opened in Mexicomarker and Argentinamarker.

Budget

ACORN has an annual budget of approximately $25 million USD with approximately 10% of those funds coming from federal sources, a smaller figure from state sources, and the rest coming from supporters and membership. HUD estimates that ACORN received $42 million USD since the 2000 budget year while the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee estimates that ACORN received $53 million in federal funds since 1994.

Controversies

ACORN is a nonpartisan organization, but its legally separate political action arm frequently endorses left-leaning causes and candidates, including the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. ACORN has lobbied in every Democratic National Convention since 1980 and has had members elected as delegates to those conventions; ACORN has also lobbied at Republican conventions. ACORN has been criticized by Republicans for its support of a Democratic candidate and for its general support of political positions that are more often favored by Democrats.

In a report released in October 2008, the U.S.marker Department of Justicemarker Inspector General concluded that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for political reasons after Iglesias failed to prosecute a New Mexicomarker ACORN chapter. The report claims Iglesias was fired for poor performance were not credible, and the "real reason for Iglesias's removal were the complaints from New Mexico Republican politicians and party activists about how Iglesias handled voter fraud [cases]."

During the debate on the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, some commentators claimed that a draft provision (omitted in the adopted bill) to give money to funds run by the US Department of the Treasurymarker could potentially lead to money flowing to groups like ACORN. When asked how much money ACORN or other community groups would get, a spokesman for Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, said, "Absolutely none. All funds would go to state and local governments." Critics have claimed that ACORN's complex organizational structure allows it to escape public scrutiny.

2008: Presidential campaign

ACORN was a political issue in the 2008 United States Presidential Election over allegations of conflict of interest and voter registration fraud. During the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary ACORN's national political action committee, ACORN Votes, endorsed Barack Obama. Obama, with several other attorneys, had served as local counsel for ACORN in a 1995 voting rights lawsuit joined by the Justice Departmentmarker and the League of Women Voters. Obama's campaign hired an ACORN affiliate for $800,000 to conduct a get-out-the-vote effort during that primary, but did not retain ACORN for the general presidential election.

Throughout the election season, supporters of Republican candidates portrayed ACORN's submission of invalid voter registration applications as widespread vote fraud. In October 2008, the campaign for Republican presidential candidate John McCain released a Web-based advertisement claiming ACORN was responsible for "massive voter fraud," a point that Sen. McCain repeated in the final presidential debate. Factcheck.org called this claim "breathtakingly inaccurate," but acknowledged that ACORN had problems with phony registrations. The ads also claimed that home loan programs ACORN promoted were partly responsible for the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Newsweek and Factcheck.org also found these claims to be exaggerated and inaccurate.

A poll released in November 2009 by the Public Policy Polling organization found that 52% of Republican Party members it surveyed, and 26% of respondents overall, believed in a conspiracy theory that ACORN "stole" the election for Barack Obama. The Democratic polling organization commented that this was somewhat higher than belief in the birther conspiracy theories.

2008-2009: Investigation of embezzlement

The New York Times reported on July 9, 2008 that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN's founder Wade Rathke, was found to have embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations back in 1999 and 2000. ACORN executives decided to handle it as an internal matter, and did not inform most of the board members or law enforcement, and instead signed an enforceable restitution agreement with the Rathke family to repay the amount of the embezzlement. $210,000 has already been repaid, and a donor has offered to pay the remaining debt. The Times reported that, according to Wade Rathke, "the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a 'weapon' into the hands of enemies of ACORN, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to ACORN's often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers." A whistleblower revealed the embezzlement in 2008. On June 2, 2008, Dale Rathke was dismissed, and Wade stepped down as ACORN's chief organizer, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.

In September 2008, following revelations of Dale Rathke's embezzlement, two members of ACORN's national board of directors filed a lawsuit seeking to obtain financial documents and to force the organization to sever ties with Wade Rathke. ACORN's executive committee voted unanimously to remove the two, "because their actions – such as releasing a confidential legal memo to the press – were damaging the organization."

In October 2009, Louisianamarker Attorney General Buddy Caldwell claimed in a subpoena that ACORN's board of directors found that a larger amount—$5 million—was embezzled from the organization. Bertha Lewis, ACORN's CEO said the allegation is false. On November 6, following up on the subpoena, Caldwell served a search warrant at the ACORN headquarters in New Orleans. Caldwell stated, "This is an investigation of everything — Acorn, the national organization, the local organization and all of its affiliated entities."

2009: Undercover videos controversy

On September 9, 2009, conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe released an edited hidden-camera video in which they posed as a prostitute and a pimp in order to elicit responses from ACORN. In the video, two employees in ACORN's Baltimoremarker office advised the two regarding home loans, tax evasion, and disguising the identities of underaged sex workers trafficked from El Salvadormarker. Similar videos followed, filmed in Washington, D.C.marker, Brooklyn marker, San Diego, Californiamarker, San Bernardino, Californiamarker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker and Los Angeles, Californiamarker.

A spokesman accused O'Keefe of dubbing the audio on the videos. Tresa Kaelke, one of the ACORN organizers interviewed, states she believed the actors were joking and made a variety of absurd or joking statements to them; another interviewed employee, Juan Carlos Vera, contacted a police officer a few days after the incident. ACORN fired the Baltimore employees, but also called the first video "false" and "defamatory," and noted that undercover teams had failed in similar attempts elsewhere. On September 16, 2009, ACORN suspended advising new clients and began an internal review process, headed by Scott Harshbarger, due to "the indefensible action of a handful of [ACORN] employees."

After the videos were made public, ACORN's partnership in the 2010 United States Census was terminated. The United States House and Senate voted to exclude ACORN from federal funding. The New York Attorney General announced an investigation to ensure that state grants given to ACORN were properly spent. The New York City Council suspended all ACORN grants while Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes conducted an investigation. On September 23, the Internal Revenue Service removed ACORN from its volunteer tax-assistance program. On September 28, Bank of America suspended programs with ACORN Housing pending a bank review of the organization.

On September 23, 2009, ACORN and the two workers depicted in the Baltimore video filed suit in a Baltimore court against the filmmakers and stated intent to file against Breitbart.com and Fox News who posted and aired them, citing emotional distress and violation of wiretap laws.

The Defund ACORN Act

In 2009, in light of various scandals a number of Democrats who once advertised their connections to ACORN began to distance themselves, and Republicans used ACORN to portray Democrats as corrupt. In light of the controversies, the United States House and Senate, by wide margin, attached amendments to pending legislation that would prohibit the federal government from funding ACORN, or any agency that had been involved in similar scandals. ACORN sued the United States Government in the United States District Court in Brooklyn over the measure, known as the "Defund ACORN Act", claiming it was a bill of attainder, and therefore unconstitutional. Experts vary on the merit of the case. While government funding choices do not generally qualify as bills of attainder, the lack of a non-punitive regulatory purpose for the legislation may give a court "sufficient basis to overcome the presumption of constitutionality."

References

  1. {{citenews}publisher=MSNBC|title=Did ACORN get too big for its own good?|date=2009-09-19|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32925682/ns/politics-more_politics/
  2. Clinton calls for $30 billion in mortgage aid to home-owners | McClatchy, March 24, 2008
  3. The Nation | Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865
  4. "Furor over ACORN allegations gaining momentum" Miami Herald, 2008-10-24.
  5. Sheffield, Reggie. "Former temp worker accused of bogus registrations." The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Penn.), July 24, 2008
  6. New York Times Associated Press, 2009-08-19.
  7. Las Vegas Sun
  8. ACORN History acorn.org
  9. Willamette Week | “The ACORN that imploded” | March 6th, 2002.
  10. {{citenews}publisher=MSNBC|title=Did ACORN get too big for its own good?|date=2009-09-19|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32925682/ns/politics-more_politics/
  11. Public Policy Polling November 19, 2009
  12. New York Times
  13. Pittsburgh News, Sports, Entertainment, Events - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
  14. Associated Press, October 6, 2009
  15. Filmmakers Show Video of ACORN 'Sting' in Philadelphia, Fox News, October 21, 2009
  16. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/us/politics/23brfs-ACORNHIRESFO_BRF.html
  17. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/24/us/politics/24acorn.html
  18. Hagerty, James. Bank Pulls Back From Acorn Work, Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2009


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