Remember ACORN? Well, the original left-wing "community organizing" group may be back in a new guise as a key behind-the-scenes ally of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, fell on hard times in 2010 after damaging videos showing workers in several of its offices actively helping conservative provocateurs posing as clients to fraudulently obtain benefits and set up a child prostitution ring. ACORN allegedly disbanded last year, but in reality continued its operations under a variety of front-group names, with one in Atlanta even snagging a Housing and Urban Development grant despite a congressional ban on federal funding of ACORN.
In New York, the original ACORN chapter morphed into something called New York Communities for Change (NYCC). Its head, Jon Kest, the former head of New York ACORN, has been a big supporter of the ragtag band that started to occupy Zuccotti Park near Wall Street last September. NYCC is clearly ACORN under the old mismanagement: it works out of the old ACORN's offices in Brooklyn, uses old ACORN office stationery, and employs much of its former staff.
Just how much Occupy Wall Street has been aided by NYCC has been revealed by Fox News, which reported that the group has been paying about 100 homeless people $10 an hour to sit in Zuccotti Park and fill out the ranks of protesters. NYCC canvassers have gone door-to-door in poor neighborhoods asking for money for unrelated causes, even though it eventually wound up in the coffers of Occupy Wall Street.
"All the money collected from canvasses is pooled together back at the office, and everything we've been working on for the last year is going to the protests, against big banks and to pay people's salaries—and those people on salary are, of course, being paid to go to the protests every day," one NYCC staff member told foxnews.com. "They're doing the same stuff now that got ACORN in trouble to begin with."
Marcel Reid is a former ACORN national board member who split with the group in 2009 when it withheld details from the board of a $1 million embezzlement perpetrated on it by the brother of its co-founder, Wade Radtke. She told me she believes her former ACORN comrades are behind much of the OWS protests. "The same people I knew keep popping up," she said. "It's like they have Tea Party envy and have to have their own thing."
Jonathan Westin, NYCC's organizing director and a former ACORN organizer, disputed the Fox story, saying: "In no way are we paying people to protest at Occupy Wall Street." He also firmly denied that any donations had been solicited in neighborhoods under false pretenses.
But it's certainly clear the Working Families Party (WFP), an old offshoot of ACORN that lends its access to the ballot to left-wing candidates in New York, has been active in recruiting bodies for Occupy Wall Street. Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center reports that WFP posted ads on Craigslist and Facebook offering jobs to people willing to "protest the big banks and Wall Street."
WFP's September 26 ad on Craigslist was titled: "FIGHT TO HOLD WALLSTREET ACCOUNTABLE NOW! MAKE A DIFFERENCE GET PAID!"
The Working Families Party has long had a sketchy past. William McInerney, the city clerk of Troy, New York, was forced to resign last summer over his role in a voter fraud scandal involving Working Families. A grand jury has indicted Troy City Councilman Michael LoPorto and county Democratic Elections Commissioner Edward G. McDonough for forging and possessing absentee ballots in an attempt to win a Working Families Party ballot line.
In 2010, Brooklyn resident Patrick Crooks told the New York Post he was encouraged to falsify names and addresses on petitions to toughen the city's rent regulations. "I saw that everyone else was doing it and my field manager was encouraging it," he told the Post. "It just didn't seem right to me." The party was the target of a lengthy federal and state investigation into its campaign practices that finally concluded that—despite clear irregularities—no laws had been broken.
Laura Flanders, an independent left-wing journalist, reported that WFP organizer Nelini Stamp has "been here [at Occupy Wall Street] since day one." She quoted Stamp as saying the protests are aimed at "trying to change the capitalist system" and bringing "revolutionary changes to the states."
IN REALITY, I believe the OWS protests have a more immediate goal: reelecting President Obama. When asked about the demonstrations, White House senior adviser David Plouffe told ABC News that "If you're concerned about Wall Street and our financial system, the president is standing on the side of consumers and the middle class."
Indeed, how could Obama not stand with the Occupy Wall Street crowd? As a proud community organizer he ran a voter registration project for Project Vote, an arm of ACORN, in the early 1990s. He went on to become one of the group's top trainers in Chicago and also to serve as its lawyer in a key voting rights case. "I've been fighting alongside of ACORN on issues you care about my entire career," he told ACORN's leaders in a speech in 2007, as he began his campaign for president. "You will have a seat at the table….We're going to be calling on all of you in to help us shape the agenda."
Given his cratering approval numbers and his consequent need to revive support from his base, it wouldn't surprise me if Obama's White House has decided to call in his old ACORN buddies to help him implement his reelection agenda. Perhaps OWS really stands for Obama Will Survive.