The Nation's Pulse

A World Without ACORN

It wouldn't be bad for the poor and disenfranchised.

By 12.2.09

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Last week, we learned that the Department of Justice wants the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to continue receiving taxpayer dollars in spite of ongoing criminal investigations into widespread fraud and other illegal activities on the part of ACORN officers and employees. Somehow the Department of Justice missed the fact that Congress overwhelmingly passed -- and the President signed -- unambiguous legislation to strip ACORN of its funding.

Almost as soon as Congress acted to defund ACORN, the whining of the liberal establishment commenced. ACORN helped poor people, we were told. ACORN's services were needed by tens of thousands of unemployed families facing immediate home foreclosure and job loss. ACORN was the lifeline for neighborhood assistance, political empowerment, and community stabilization for untold numbers of disaffected, disenfranchised, and downtrodden people.

But has ACORN really carved out a monopoly on assisting the poor, registering voters, and empowering the powerless? Do poor Americans have nowhere else to turn but a nationwide syndicate of criminal miscreants, prostitution consultants, and bogus voter registrants masquerading as community organizers?

Of course not, and the facts bear this out.

Defunding ACORN does not create a void in services available to homeowners in need of counseling and other support. ACORN Housing's mortgage counseling, assistance, and community development programs are duplicative of those offered by dozens of other highly rated national organizations.

In fact, Charity Navigator, the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities, ranks 57 housing and community development charities across 26 states as exceptional, thus earning them a four-star rating for outperforming most other charities in their cause. An additional 42 housing and community development charities across 19 states and the District of Columbia have received a three-star rating. None of these agencies, by the way, have demonstrated a tendency for criminal misconduct.

Among those rated highly by Charity Navigator is the United Way, whose Financial Stability Partnership was created to provide financial education and counseling support to help lower-income individuals and families achieve the skills necessary to become financially independent, maximize income, build savings, and gain assets.

The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise works with 50 community-based organizations in 18 states through financial literacy training and other services. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) helps non-profit community development organizations transform distressed neighborhoods. Since 1980, LISC has invested $9 billion to create 244,755 affordable homes and apartments and 36 million square feet of retail and community space.

And the list goes on.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development alone has more than 2,000 counseling agencies that offer free services identical to the suite of programs that ACORN says it provides. These HUD-sponsored agencies are available free of charge to people needing mortgage loan counseling in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. In the states hit hardest during the current recession, there are hundreds of non-ACORN affiliated agencies working overtime to stem the tide of homelessness and joblessness.

In Michigan, where unemployment has reached a staggering 15.1%, HUD sponsors 87 housing counseling services, none of which are affiliated with ACORN's three state offices.

In Nevada (13% unemployment), there are 19 HUD-sponsored agencies and ACORN's lone office does not offer HUD-approved counseling. In Rhode Island (12.9%), there are 11 HUD-sponsored counseling services compared to ACORN's one. In California (12.5%), there are 150 non-ACORN HUD-sponsored agencies, dwarfing the community impact of the seven HUD-approved counseling services operating out of ACORN's 15 state offices. And in South Carolina (12.1%), ACORN's single state office does not provide any HUD-sponsored counseling services. Fortunately for the residents of South Carolina, there are 29 other agencies that do.

The facts are telling: in the states where financial counseling and loan modifications are needed most, there are dozens if not hundreds of HUD-sponsored agencies providing services for free. In those very same states, ACORN has little to no presence.

When it comes to voter registration -- a key component of ACORN's national strategy to elect Democratic candidates -- the nation's four largest nonpartisan groups (Declare Yourself, HeadCount, Student PIRGs, and Rock the Vote) registered 5.5 million people during the 2008 election cycle. By comparison, ACORN registered 1.3 million people, nearly one-third of which were rejected as incomplete or fraudulent. Unlike ACORN, however, these other groups have not had their regional offices closed down by federal authorities, their employees arrested and convicted, or their reputations sullied by scandals that involve providing advice to undercover videojournalists about smuggling Salvadoran child prostitutes.

Clearly, ACORN deserves to lose its tax-exempt status and has forfeited its right to receive taxpayer dollars -- dollars more responsibly awarded to thousands of other worthy community-based organizations around which a cloud of criminal suspicion does not hang. Congress was right to defund ACORN, and the Obama administration is wrong in its attempt to explain away the law to keep the money funneling into ACORN's illicit enterprise.

Indeed, a world without ACORN would still see government resources helping the poor, keeping down home foreclosures, and opening up economic and political opportunities for those most in need. In fact, it would see those resources used more efficiently, successfully, and lawfully.

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About the Author

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.