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Political Activity Fueled GOP Anger at ACORN

With House and Senate Republicans taking aim at private funding sources of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the GOP appears poised to cripple an organization that has gone from a little-known charity to one of the conservative movement’s most-reviled enemies.

For decades, ACORN has operated in states across the country, working on a variety of issues, ranging from low-income housing initiatives to environmental justice cases to voter registration.

In the past few years, ACORN has become the target of attacks from Republicans and conservatives. But it wasn’t until the 2008 election cycle, when ACORN was linked to a series of voter registration scandals, that the group gained national notoriety. That notoriety turned to infamy earlier this month when a series of hidden-camera videos were released showing two conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute being given advice on money laundering and human trafficking by ACORN employees.

Those videos prompted the House and Senate overwhelmingly to vote to eliminate the group’s federal funding — as well as calls late last week by leading Republicans in both chambers to investigate the group’s sources of private funds.

ACORN Executive Director Bertha Lewis has called the accusations of corruption “politically motivated, false and part of a long-standing campaign against this grass-roots organization carried out by partisan right-wing conservatives.— ACORN has also filed suit against the filmmakers for filming employees without their consent.

And while Republicans adamantly deny their crusade against the organization is politically motivated, they do admit the group’s recent forays into politics is what got their attention.

A Senate GOP aide acknowledged that it was the group’s push into national politics in the mid-2000s that spawned Republican interest. “Local politics hardly ever make national news,— so the group’s community organizing work largely went unnoticed.

House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (Calif.), one of the GOP’s leaders on the ACORN front, said he first heard of ACORN in 2006 when House Republicans began reporting instances of ACORN activists protesting their district offices and participating in overtly political rallies.

“Members were coming into Conference and they were specifically saying, ‘I’m being targeted by ACORN.’ They knew who it was,— Issa said. ACORN activists “wore these uniforms that theoretically went with their nonprofit work, but they were campaigning and actively opposing— Republicans.

ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring acknowledged the group has clashed with Republicans. “ACORN members have picketed some Republican members of Congress over the years,— he wrote in an e-mail. “In a famous 1995 example, ACORN members protested Speaker Newt Gingrich’s effort to eliminate the federal school lunch program. That program continues to this day thanks to the hard work of ACORN members.—

Kettenring added: “ACORN members also picketed some Congressional offices when proposals were put forth by the GOP to privatize Social Security in recent years. Fortunately, those voices were heard, and Social Security was protected.—

By 2007, Issa said questions about legality of ACORN’s work began to crop up among Republicans as Members started to notice the group seemed to have conflicting missions.

“They were a charity; they were a nonprofit; they were a community program using money from federal, state and local sources; they were a charity reaching out to banks and other corporations for money; they were a politically active group closely aligned with the Service Employees International Union,— Issa said. “You can’t be one organization and be all of that, and it turns out they’re not.—

But even after the group was on the GOP’s radar, it took some time for the broader public — and Democrats — to even acknowledge those complaints.

“It’s something Republicans have made a big deal of going back I don’t know how long,— one Senate Republican said.

“For years, ACORN has been the subject of allegations of voter registration fraud, embezzlement of funds, and mismanagement,— House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement. “It’s clear that the leadership at ACORN has fostered a culture of corruption.—

Smith, Issa, Financial Services ranking member Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) have been the leaders of the fight to end federal funding for the group.

On Friday, Smith, Issa and Bachus called on a host of private institutions to disclose funding that they have given ACORN. On Thursday, Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a report detailing a web of nonprofits run by ACORN, which Republicans said are being used to funnel money to the parent group’s political activities.

Bank of America announced Monday that it would no longer do business with ACORN.

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