What is the ACORN controversy about?
Here are the basics about ACORN and about the videos that have put the organization in hot water.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is once again at the center of controversy. This time the group is in hot water over videos that show employees telling two conservative activists masquerading as a pimp and prostitute how to trick federal tax authorities.Skip to next paragraph
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ACORN says the videos are part of a “multiyear political assault” on the organization, which conservatives say uses tax dollars to advance a liberal agenda. But the organization also says it is “deeply disturbed” by the videos and has launched its own review of employee procedures and training.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are using the videos as evidence for why the federal government should cut off all funding to the organization, which helps low- and moderate-income people gain access to mortgages.
On Monday, senators overwhelmingly voted to keep the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from issuing grants to ACORN. On Wednesday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama asked for a full-blown investigation of the group.
But how did an organization that largely concerns itself with matters of America’s poorest find itself, once again, in the sights of both lawmakers and talk-show hosts? Following are some basics about ACORN and the recent controversy.
What is ACORN?
According to the group’s website, ACORN is a collection of grass-roots organizations that serve as an advocate for the poor. It began in the 1970s and now has about 1,200 chapters. It is “committed to social and economic justice” and has worked to raise the minimum wage, end predatroy lending practices, and develop affordable housing.
But during the presidential campaign last year, a few ACORN employees working to register voters were charged with filing bogus applications. They were caught and fired. But when it was revealed that President Obama had connections with ACORN, the incident became highly politicized. Republican presidential candidate John McCain attempted to tie ACORN with Mr. Obama.
ACORN does receive federal tax dollars for some of its work. The Senate vote on the motion presented Monday by Sen. Mike Johanns (R) of Nebraska would prevent it from receiving any dollars from HUD. The group was in line to receive grants to counsel low-income homebuyers.
Senator Johanns, who also wants the US attorney general to investigate ACORN, says that the group has received $53 million in federal money since 1994.
In light of the most recent controversy, the Census Bureau has fired ACORN, which had been hired to help with the 2010 Census.
What do the videos show?
On Sept. 10, the website Biggovernment.com began posting videos of a couple who said they were operating a prostitution ring that involved underage girls from El Salvador. They went to ACORN offices in New York, Washington, California, and Maryland with essentially the same story: They wanted help hiding their illicit income from federal tax authorities.