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Show ACORN the Money

Thanks to federal judge Nina Gershon and the new Obama budget blueprint for FY11, the president's favorite community organizers should be back in business.

By 2.2.10

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ACORN and other left-wing advocacy groups could be eligible for up to $3.99 billion in federal funding included in the $3.83 trillion fiscal 2011 budget blueprint that President Obama unveiled yesterday.

The $3.99 billion comes from a congressional slush fund known as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) $48.5 billion fiscal 2011 budget. CDBG grants, which are awarded to states and localities, pass indirectly to ACORN.

How is more funding of ACORN possible when Congress passed a ban on funding the group and its affiliates just last year?

Congress has already hinted it might vote to restore funding to ACORN. On Dec. 8 the House Appropriations Committee rejected on a party line vote of 9 to 5 an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) that would have blocked federal funding of ACORN.

And in December federal Judge Nina Gershon restored federal funding of ACORN by issuing a temporary injunction against the congressional funding ban. The Brooklyn-based Gershon, a Bill Clinton appointee, determined that depriving ACORN of taxpayer dollars was an unconstitutional "bill of attainder" that singled out ACORN for punishment without trial.

You might be familiar with Gershon's oeuvre. In 1999 she ruled then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani had no right to cut off city funding of the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it displayed dead animals and a painting of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung.

Gershon's order covered the federal government's temporary spending legislation that expired Dec. 18 but ACORN is asking that the injunction be modified to cover the remainder of fiscal 2010, which ends Sept. 30. If the litigation drags on, ACORN will undoubtedly seek another modification to cover fiscal 2011.

In the same court order Gershon also blocked the Obama administration from cutting off funding for ACORN, as Office of Management and Budget director Peter R. Orszag had ordered in a directive dated Oct. 7.

The judge's ruling could be made permanent when the case goes to trial, a move that would help to shore up ACORN's finances.

But an official with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York told me yesterday it was unclear when ACORN v. U.S.A. would proceed to trial. At this point ACORN and the government are still filing motions and other documents with the court, he said.

Although ACORN is President Obama's favorite activist group, his administration has done the right thing by appealing Gershon's ruling. Then again, it was the Obama administration in the first place that started looking for ways to keep tax dollars flowing to ACORN. In a legal memo unveiled by the Justice Department in November, the Obama administration invented a loophole that allowed the government to continue funding ACORN.

If ACORN receives fresh CDBG funding, it won't get anything close to the full $3.99 billion available because it has to compete with other community-based groups. However, most Americans would be shocked to learn that the congenitally corrupt radical group may continue to receive federal tax dollars.

The Manhattan Institute's Steven Malanga calls CDBG "America's worst urban program," noting that the money "it has lavished on poor neighborhoods has had little impact, because nothing in the funding formula requires grantees to show that they're actually improving things. Few ever 'graduate' from the program, having achieved their mission. Instead, the funding spigot stays open, year after year."

CDBG is indeed good old-fashioned graft, an area in which ACORN has great expertise. Politicians of both parties love CDBG because it is flexible. The program gives them wide latitude when spending grant money and allows local leaders to use federal dollars on local projects that they wouldn't dream of spending their own local tax dollars on. ACORN, which has been receiving funding under the Great Society-era program since at least 1996, loves CDBG because it is adept at lobbying state and local governments to give it CDBG funds.

Nonetheless CDBG-funded projects do have to meet at least one of three "national objectives," according to HUD.

Funded activities have to be "[b]enefiting low- and moderate-income persons, [p]reventing or eliminating blight, or [m]eeting other community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community, and other financial resources are not available to meet such needs."

Phil Gordon, the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, boasts about the "critical role" CDBG funds have played "in revitalizing neighborhoods by addressing housing, infrastructure and programs and facilities serving youth, seniors, the homeless and those in poverty."

It's not clear which of the three criteria ACORN's CDBG-funded Housing and Community Organizing Center in Phoenix falls under.

Perhaps ACORN boss Bertha Lewis, whom the whistleblowers of the ACORN 8 say conspired to cover up a $948,000 embezzlement, can stop doing the happy dance over hidden camera videographer James O'Keefe's legal problems long enough to explain.

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About the Author

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist at a conservative watchdog group in Washington, D.C. Vadum is also author of Subversion Inc: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers.