New video stokes ACORN controversy

Conservative activists released a new video sting of ACORN employees this week - this time from the Philadelphia office, which the group had held up as a model of good practice.

By , Staff writer

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    Andrew Breitbart, center, flanked by James O'Keefe III, left, and Hannah Giles, takes part in a news conference, Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
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The controversy over ACORN shows no signs of abating as another video – this time from Philadelphia – was released this week as the latest piece of evidence in a bid to discredit the community-organizing group that conservatives charge uses tax dollars to advance a liberal agenda.

As in the five other videos, two young activists pose as a pimp and prostitute and solicit home-buying advice from an employee of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the country’s largest grass-roots organizers.

Unlike the other videos, which were all shot over the summer and released in September on BigGovernment.com, this video does not explicitly reveal ACORN employees giving the videographers – James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles – tips on how to hide their phony prostitution ring from tax regulators and loan officers. But it could still be damaging.

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After the controversy broke, ACORN said it fired the employees who were caught on tape dispensing bad advice and took steps to ensure all employees had proper training. The group held up the Philadelphia office (taped around the same time as the others, but not released until now) as an example of how the videos represented the exception at ACORN and not the rule.

In that office, the group said, the two videographers had been asked to leave and Ms. Giles never identified herself as a prostitute.

The Philadelphia video is highly edited, trimmed to roughly 8 minutes from about 30 minutes of footage. It does not show any attempt to shoo Mr. O'Keefe or Giles from the office. The ACORN employee’s voice is muted, apparently for legal reasons. ACORN has sued the videographers and Mr. Brietbart over the legality of recording someone without their consent.

The video shows that ACORN has “lied” throughout the entire controversy, said Breitbart and O’Keefe. They said they may release a fuller version and transcript later.

ACORN’s reputation and funding have taken a hit as a result of the videos. Congress voted to freeze funding for ACORN, and the US Census Bureau and the IRS have also severed ties with the group.

ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis has acknowledged that the 40-year-old grass-roots group has been mismanaged. The group announced this month that former Attorney General of Massachusetts Scott Harshbarger will conduct his own investigation into the group’s procedures.

Still, many commentators question the tack taken by ACORN’s leaders. After Ms. Lewis addressed the National Press Club earlier this month, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that while it was true that the attack on ACORN was “stirred up by conservatives and Republican politicians ... Lewis, in playing the victim, is her own worst enemy.”

Lewis’s address to the press club can be seen here.

Stu Bykofsky, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, had an idea for how ACORN should have handled the situation right from the start: “Thanked O’Keefe and Giles for uncovering wrongdoing and got it fixed right away. When you are caught in a jam, Eagles’ bravado isn’t the answer. Honesty is.”

The combination of the video controversy coupled with allegations of voter registration fraud last year has turned the group into something of a lightning rod for conservatives.

The video sting on ACORN is part of a larger campaign against the grass-roots organizers, wrote Peter Dreier, a politics professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, in an opinion piece Thursday for the Los Angeles Times.

"Over the years, ACORN has made powerful enemies," he wrote. "Business groups have funded anti-ACORN websites, such as rottenacorn.com, that aim to destroy the group's credibility. Republicans have long opposed ACORN's success at registering low-income, mostly minority voters, who are more likely to vote for Democrats."

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