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Lien on Me

ACORN's squirrelly liberals agitate for higher taxes but don't like paying them.

By 10.28.08

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The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and its affiliates are content to impose crippling big-government laws, regulations, and taxes on Americans, but when called upon to obey those same rules, ACORN's network of scofflaws and deadbeats simply refuses to comply.

The most egregious example is the fact that more than 200 federal, state, and local tax liens adding up to more than $3 million have been filed against the ACORN network since 1989. All of these liens, which are only issued by creditor tax agencies after a tax debt has become seriously delinquent, are associated with ACORN's 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue address in New Orleans, Louisiana. That address is the official headquarters for nearly 300 ACORN-affiliated groups.

The most recent lien ($23,383) was filed by the IRS against an ACORN affiliate, American Workers Associates Inc., on Sept. 9. The largest lien ($547,312) was filed against ACORN itself by the IRS on March 10.

You may remember that during this year's primaries, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama paid $832,598 to Citizens Services Inc., an ACORN affiliated nonprofit registered in Louisiana, for get-out-the-vote activities. My research determined that ACORN affiliate Project Vote (a.k.a. Voting for America Inc.) also paid ACORN affiliate Citizens Services Inc. a total of $1,206,942 in 2005 and 2006.

Despite these huge cash injections, Citizens Services Inc. still can't make ends meet. Two liens filed against it in 2007 by Arkansas ($568) and Maryland ($357) remain outstanding.

Federal tax laws make it virtually impossible to find out what kinds of taxes the ACORN affiliates didn't feel like paying. As IRS spokesman Anthony Burke told me, "federal tax law precludes federal employees from disclosing tax return information." An exception to this is a federal tax lien filed at a county court house. That information may be public but "anything beyond that would be protected by the disclosure provisions of the federal tax law," Burke said.

Even though it's unclear what kinds of taxes ACORN and its affiliates failed to pay, because almost all ACORN affiliates are nonprofits that are exempted from paying most or all taxes, it seems likely that the liens were issued for non-payment of employees' payroll taxes, which are not covered under the tax-exemption.

Several accountants confirmed this view, saying the tax debts are probably related to delinquent payroll taxes. If so, this would be the ultimate irony because payroll taxes fund the social programs and wealth redistribution schemes that ACORN so ardently supports. (See Foundation Watch (pdf), November 2008.)

But ACORN's refusal to pay taxes is just the tip of the iceberg. The group has used the courts to wage war on the same worker protections it publicly supports.

ACORN stoutly defends the right of workers to organize unions, but the group doesn't like it when its own workers try to organize. It has tried to stop its own employees from signing up with unions, and in 2003 the National Labor Relations Board determined it had unlawfully blocked its workers from organizing.

ACORN supports raising the minimum wage and enacting so-called living wage policies, and claims it organized community and labor coalitions that succeeded in enacting living wage laws in 41 cities by the end of the 1990s.

Yet a 2003 study of ACORN by the Employment Policies Institute found the group paid a wage of $5.67 per hour, which was "less than half the level demanded by many proposed 'living wage' ordinances that ACORN supports."

And in 2006, $250-a-week Baltimore ACORN intern Sandra Stewart told Baltimore City Paper that the Baltimore chapter hadn't bothered to pay her for her work. Three other former ACORN workers told the paper that the group failed to pay them back wages.

In 1995, ACORN sued California seeking an exemption from the state law that requires it to pay its own employees a minimum wage. ACORN, which argued that keeping its employees in poverty helps to boost their zeal to help the poor, lost.

Even though it supports the continued imposition of equal employment opportunity laws on the rest of America, it argued in a separate lawsuit that same year that it shouldn't have to comply with those laws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had to sue ACORN to force it comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement's legislative accomplishments. (See Labor Watch (pdf), November 2008.)

Strangely, when ACORN fell victim to a theft, it just couldn't bring itself to trust the government to help resolve the matter. After founder Wade Rathke's brother Dale embezzled $948,000 from the group in 2000, ACORN refused to hand the matter over to government-run courts and instead embraced a refreshingly libertarian approach to dispute resolution.

Euphemistically calling the theft, which Wade Rathke covered up for eight years, a "misappropriation," ACORN allowed the Rathke family to pay private restitution at the rate of $30,000 per year. The founder disguised the missing funds as a loan to an officer on the ledgers of ACORN affiliate Citizens Consulting Inc. That affiliate, by the way, currently has a minimum of $112,597 in federal tax liens pending against it plus a $2,307 District of Columbia tax lien.

And these people want Americans to trust them to handle voter registration drives?

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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.