Special Report

The Powers That Be

Is ACORN squelching critical voices -- even that of House Judiciary chairman John Conyers?

By 6.30.09

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Is the radical leftist group ACORN squelching voices that dare to criticize it?

That's the distinct impression House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) left last week when he told the Washington Times that he wasn't proceeding with an investigation of ACORN because "the powers that be decided against it."

Conyers refused to explain who "the powers" might be, but his spokesman Jonathan Godfrey twisted himself into a pretzel trying to spin the statement. The congressman was referring to himself as "the powers that be," Godfrey claimed.

Conyers has his own problems. His notorious wife Monica, a Detroit City Council member, who once threw a temper tantrum and called the council's baldheaded presiding officer "Shrek" as an insult when he reclaimed the floor, pleaded guilty Friday to felony bribery charges. On Monday she tendered her resignation.

Just three months before Rep. Conyers was convinced that looking into the affairs of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was the right way to go.
During a March 19 hearing, he received testimony from Republican lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh about ACORN's alleged serial violations of tax, campaign finance, and myriad other laws. Heidelbaugh's testimony was based on the evidence provided by a former ACORN employee, Anita MonCrief, who explained the thoroughly corrupt inner workings of ACORN and Project Vote, its voter drive-organizing arm, to a Pennsylvania court last year.

Conyers was told about ACORN's "muscle for the money" program, its protest-for-hire services, its mob-style shakedown tactics, and how President Obama's campaign sent the group its "maxed out donor list" and asked it "to reach out to the maxed out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN."

At the time, Conyers described the allegations as "a pretty serious matter" and a fortnight later said he would "probably" order a probe. "That's our jurisdiction, the Department of Justice. That's what we handle -- voter fraud. Unless that's been taken out of my jurisdiction and I didn't know it."

On May 4 he unexpectedly pulled back, announcing that a probe of ACORN "appears unwarranted at this time." He refused to elaborate even though earlier the same day Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, revealed that ACORN and two former senior ACORN executives had been charged with 39 felony counts related to voter registrations.

A few days later Allegheny County, Pennsylvania District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. laid voter registration fraud charges against seven ex-ACORN canvassers. Cuyahoga County, Ohio prosecutor Bill Mason is also probing ACORN after a man who was registered multiple times by ACORN was indicted by a grand jury for fraudulent voting. The Ohio charge should be especially worrisome to ACORN, which claims as a matter of policy that illegal voting does not happen.

Since Miller, Cortez Masto, Zappala, and Mason are all Democrats you might expect ACORN, which also as a matter of policy insists the Republican Party is determined to destroy it, would refrain from claiming partisan persecution, but you'd be wrong.

ACORN lawyer Lisa Rasmussen said at a court hearing June 3 that election fraud charges laid against the group in Nevada were motivated by politics. "The politically motivated charges, such as those brought by the attorney general and secretary of state, just highlight the voter registration system that is broken," Rasmussen said in a Las Vegas courtroom.

As credible allegations of wrongdoing continue to mount against the group, it becomes increasingly harder to believe Conyers's claim that his hands were tied.

But then again why did anyone actually believe that Conyers, an ally of ACORN who until recently resisted calls to probe it, was serious about looking at the group?

In the fall Conyers, who garnered a 100% rating from ACORN in its 2006 legislative scorecard, called the organization that helps get out his party's vote "a longstanding and well regarded organization that fights for the poor and working class." In June 2008 he called America's corporations "capitalist predators" to wild applause at ACORN's national convention in Detroit.

It's not like there is a shortage of things to investigate.

ACORN and its taxpayer-supported labyrinth of affiliates owe millions of dollars in back taxes, helped cause the subprime mortgage mess, and may be using taxpayer money even now on partisan political activities.

There is the group's eight-year-long coverup of Dale Rathke's embezzlement of close to $1 million from the group. Dale is the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke. The group's national board threw the founder out last summer. When ACORN board members Marcel Reid and Karen Inman, who were appointed specifically to investigate the embezzlement, asked for the relevant financial documents last year, they too were shown the door. Soon after, Reid and Inman created "ACORN 8," a group that is trying to reform ACORN.

When Congress last investigated ACORN a decade ago it struck gold.

A congressional report noted that there was "apparent cross-over funding between ACORN, a political advocacy group and ACORN Housing Corp. (AHC), a non profit, AmeriCorp [sic] grantee" that is a major affiliate of ACORN. The government-funded AmeriCorps, which promotes public service, suspended AHC's funding "after it was learned that AHC and ACORN shared office space and equipment and failed to assure that activities and funds were wholly separate."

The report noted that, "AmeriCorps members of AHC raised funds for ACORN, performed voter registration activities, and gave partisan speeches. In one instance, an AmeriCorps member was directed by ACORN staff to assist the [Clinton] White House in preparing a press conference in support of legislation." ("Report on the Activities of the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities During the 104th Congress," Report 104-875, January 2, 1997.)

Who knows what Congress might find nowadays.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on ACORN critics with ties to the organization is underway.

It's possible ACORN's tough-guy approach has something to do with the closed-press meeting May 27 at the headquarters of John Podesta's left-wing Center for American Progress Action Fund. The meeting of liberal and radical groups was called to discuss how to use misdirection to take the focus off ACORN's increasingly well-publicized corruption. One of the groups, Alliance for Justice, used its website to advertise the crisis management meeting called "Reframing the Attack on Voter Registration."

ACORN is threatening the ACORN 8 because it's afraid of them and wants to shut them up. The group argues the ACORN 8 is violating ACORN's intellectual property by using the word "ACORN" in its name. ACORN lawyer and longtime left-wing activist Arthur Z. Schwartz of the New York City law firm of Schwartz, Lichten & Bright PC recently sent the ACORN 8 a "cease and desist" letter giving the group's members until June 30 (today) to close shop.

Reid says that won't happen.

ACORN is also suing whistleblower MonCrief to shut her up. ACORN finds MonCrief irritating because she has revealed much about the group's internal operations to the media.

Did ACORN also put the squeeze on Chairman Conyers?

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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.