Californians have plenty of reasons not to trust their state attorney general to conduct an honest probe of ACORN and the hidden-camera videos that helped expose the group’s criminal inclinations for the world to see.
That’s because Jerry Brown’s one gnarly dude. Like, totally.
The radical, perpetual office holder who handed out acorns during mayoral inauguration festivities in 1999 — describing them as symbolizing “seeds of change” — goes way back with ACORN.
The New Left crusader known as Governor Moonbeam when he was the state’s chief executive from 1975 to 1983 has had close ties to the group for years, according to a former ACORN official.
ACORN endorsed Brown and performed voter registration and get-out-the-vote work for his campaigns for Oakland mayor and state attorney general, Fannie Brown (no relation) told me in an interview earlier this week.
A resident of Oakland who used to be a California state delegate on ACORN’s national board, Fannie got fed up with ACORN’s corruption. ACORN’s chief organizer, Bertha Lewis, expelled her from the group a year ago for asking too many questions about a million-dollar embezzlement perpetrated by the brother of founder Wade Rathke. She’s now a member of the whistleblower group ACORN 8.
There is other evidence of Jerry Brown’s involvement with ACORN.
As mayor, Brown worked with ACORN and ACORN Housing on an anti-predatory lending campaign called “Don’t Borrow Trouble.” (Oakland Post, June 20, 2001) ACORN gave Attorney General Brown an “A” grade on its “Real Leadership in Fighting Foreclosures” scorecard last year.
Brown has long been enthusiastic about community organizing. When he was California governor, he singled out ACORN as a group he trusted:
[I]n this job I spend my time calling on that same network of community organizers that has been there right along…When I talk to people about community programs, I want to talk to the people from ACORN and Fair Share and Mass Advocacy — all the community groups that I’ve known over a period of years.
Around the same time, Brown praised the aggressive tactics of the taxpayer-funded community service organization VISTA, which became part of AmeriCorps during the Clinton era.
When asked whether “[t]he rich, the corporations, Republicans in general, may still regard a highly publicized VISTA program and your volunteers as a threat,” he replied, “I assume they will, and they ought to; if they don’t, then I’m not doing my job.”
Sounding like ACORN founder Wade Rathke, Brown added that VISTA “ought not to be just a bunch of low-paid social workers. It ought to be people helping to get themselves together to build new institutions.”
Meanwhile, the fact that Brown, who may yet again be governor, has a close working relationship with ACORN is important because he is investigating the group. ACORN has been in hot water since September when undercover videos surfaced showing its employees in California and elsewhere bending over backwards to counsel clients to break the law. In the videos filmmaker James O’Keefe portrayed a pimp and Hannah Giles portrayed a prostitute.
California law forbids secret electronic recordings of “confidential communication.”
Adding to Brown’s woes, ACORN’s lead organizer in San Diego, David Lagstein, was caught on tape suggesting Brown’s investigation was a sham.
“The attorney general is a political animal as well,” Lagstein told a Democratic gathering last month. “Every bit of communication we’ve had with [Brown’s office] has suggested that fault will be found with the people that did the video and not with ACORN.”
Brown’s office was also revealed to have recorded reporters without their consent, an apparent violation of state law.
Is it possible that O’Keefe and Giles could be punished for unauthorized recording while the attorney general’s former flak, Scott Gerber, who taped reporters, gets off scot-free?
Time will tell.