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“I Am a Member of ACORN” — Is Legislator Blocking Probe?

Bill calling for state investigation stalls in committee run by ACORN member. (UPDATED 10/20/09, 10:03 p.m.)

By 9.18.09

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ACORN is inside the gates.

The American Spectator has learned that a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to investigate the activities of the controversial Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- ACORN -- is stalled in the powerful State Government Committee.

The chairman, State Representative Babette Josephs, a Philadelphia Democrat, is a member of ACORN.

The revelation of Chairman Joseph's ACORN ties came in a now long-forgotten April 3, 2008 hearing of the House State Government Committee. The hearing took place at 9:05 in the morning in room 205 of the Ryan Office Building in the State Capitol Complex in Harrisburg. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the upcoming (April 22nd) Pennsylvania primary election preparations with Governor Ed Rendell's Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro Cortes. As Cortes was being questioned by Committee members, there was this exchange, released in the official Committee transcript, between Berks County (Reading) Representative Carl Mantz, a Republican, and Chairman Josephs:

REPRESENTATIVE MANTZ: Yes. In my own county, there have been news reports in my county, Berks County, Lehigh County, in my district and also Philadelphia, about allegations respecting the activities of the ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. And allegations have been made that ACORN and its employees have submitted fraudulent voter registrations. Number one , I guess my question is, is it legal for Pennsylvania, in this state, to compensate individuals or voters, each voter registration that a person -- I understand that that's apparently -- I don't believe that's -- I see Al Masland has left, and I apologize. I'm not as familiar with the statute in that respect.

CHAIR JOSEPHS: Mr. Mantz, we can get the answer to you, but I would like to say that I am a member of ACORN, and they do not do that.

On July 30th of 2009, Representative Stephen Barrar, a Republican from Chester and Delaware counties who does not serve on Josephs' State Government Committee, introduced House Resolution 426. The bill, referred to the State Government Committee, calls for a formal request from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to the state attorney general to investigate ACORN. Josephs, in her role as chairman, controls the committee. The bill has gone nowhere, leading to the belief by legislative sources that Josephs is using her power as chairman of the State Government Committee to protect the controversial group of which she herself is a member.

In contrast, Republicans say, on June 19, 2007, when the leadership of the Democratic-controlled State House wanted to rush through a bill tolling Interstate 80, they passed House Bill 1590 as a "blank bill." Meaning the bill literally had no words in it. It was whipped out of committee and passed within hours, then sent over to the GOP controlled Senate before the day was out.

At 31 session days and counting from the date of Barrar's ACORN investigation bill, the contrast with the reaction from the U.S. Congress could not be greater. Within days of recent revelations showing ACORN employees in five different cities appearing to assist undercover investigative journalists in questionable activities involving prostitution, tax laws and the importation of underage girls for what amounts to sex slavery, both the U.S. Senate and House took immediate action. The Senate cut off federal housing money for ACORN by an overwhelming 83-7 margin, while on Thursday the House, like the Senate controlled by Democrats, passed the "Defund Acorn Act" by a stunning 345-75 vote.

In the Pennsylvania legislature, things are quite different.

On Thursday, while Democrats in Washington joined Republicans in defunding ACORN, Barrar made an attempt to follow the Congress. He "attempted to a add a provision" cutting off state funding for ACORN by adding a requirement to the state's fiscal code that would ban ACORN and other political groups "from receiving public funding."

Democrats in the State House voted unanimously to refuse to even consider the motion, further fueling suspicion that Barrar's call for an ACORN investigation will never see the light of day.

Said Barrar: "This organization has portrayed itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social justice organization, but it appears to be a partisan political organization, consistently mired in voter fraud allegations, and now its staffers have apparently shown people how to break the law." He added, "The people of Pennsylvania do not want their hard-earned tax dollars to fund the political activities of such groups."

The Democrats in the House disagreed. The rejected bill would have denied all public funding for groups that are engaged in political activities such as:

• Actively managing a political campaign
• Soliciting or handling political contributions
• Soliciting votes
• Endorsing or opposing candidates
• Circulating partisan nominating petitions
• Organizing partisan voter registration drives

Barrar has also introduced legislation that would stop ACORN from receiving funds from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. That legislation is in the House Commerce Committee, which is not chaired by an ACORN member.

(UPDATE) He has revealed as well that "along with many allegations of wrongdoing, the Pennsylvania Department of State has had a Cease and Desist Order on its website against ACORN, dating back to November 2007. According to the website, any organization subject to the cease and desist order 'cannot legally solicit contributions in Pennsylvania.' ACORN has failed to register with the Department of State, as required by law. As of today, the organization still has not filed in Pennsylvania."

Said Rep. Barrar: "I believe that if the state conducts an investigation of ACORN's activities, they could uncover new cases of voter fraud and other illegal activities. This group has been so caught up in controversy that even the United States Census Bureau has dissociated from them.  It is time to clean up the corruption and ensure that such groups cannot pervert our democratic system." (END UPDATE)

The revelation of ACORN's clout in the Pennsylvania legislature comes on the heels of news that U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. was one of only seven U.S. Senators to vote against the move in the Senate to cut off federal funding for ACORN. Casey's action matches the votes of three Pennsylvania members of the U.S. House, all Democrats, who declined to support a similar effort in the U.S. House on Thursday. Voting to preserve ACORN's access to federal funds were U.S. Representatives Robert Brady and Chakah Fattah of Philadelphia and Michael Doyle of Pittsburgh.

Much has been made in the last few days of the work done by the young journalists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles. They have in fact opened up one very large question: What is the range and depth of ACORN's penetration into the processes of American government?

If a member of ACORN can run a major committee of the Pennsylvania state legislature that has assigned to it a bill requesting an investigation of ACORN, where else in government -- federal, state and local -- is the influence of ACORN manifesting itself?

The questions have only begun.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.