When the extortion and vote fraud conglomerate ACORN isn't staging sit-ins to pressure banks to lend to high-risk borrowers, busing schoolchildren to the nation's capital to protest proposed tax cuts, campaigning for big government policies, or raising the dead from battleground-state cemeteries and leading them to the voting booth, it is at war with itself.
Months after the radical left-wing group gave the bum's rush to disgraced founder Wade Rathke last summer, leaders of the normally cohesive Association of Community Organizations for Reform's network began aligning themselves with internal factions.
The process accelerated in October when ACORN national board members Karen Inman and Marcel Reid were unceremoniously booted them from the board for asking too many questions. They wanted to know more about a nearly $1 million embezzlement that senior ACORN officials covered up for eight years.
They called it due diligence and fiduciary duty, but higher-ups at ACORN -- which may soon have a shot at collecting a chunk of the $5.2 billion set aside for liberal groups in the current economic stimulus bill -- called it violating by-laws.
Before I go further, some background might be helpful here.
Inman and Reid were appointed by the ACORN national board in June to a special committee that was charged with looking into the financial scandal. The two dared to ask to see the group's financial records in hopes of making sense of the circa 2000 misappropriation by Dale Rathke, brother of the group's founder.
After they were unexpectedly denied access to the documentation they sought, the two filed suit in New Orleans, joined by six other board members, demanding access to the papers.
But the board ordered them to discontinue the lawsuit and ACORN's CEO, chief organizer Bertha Lewis, toed the party line, telling reporters after the inquisitive duo was axed that they were removed "for violating the board's code of conduct."
This is unlawful, the dissidents say. According to Inman, only state chapters have the authority to remove her from the group's national governing body. Inman represents the Minnesota branch on the national board, and Reid represents the District of Columbia branch.
And so the cover-up continues, the law, as always, being of little consequence to the ACORN network, itself a tangled mess of interlocking directorates and affiliated tax-exempt groups that routinely swap 7-figure checks.
But Inman, Reid, and other disgruntled ACORN members are now fighting back.
Reid says ACORN nowadays focuses on making money and doesn't give a damn about the poor people it is supposed to be fighting for.
"ACORN has become a cornucopia of power and wealth, wielded by people who patronize and exploit more than empower or even help the poor and moderate income people ACORN purports to serve; and any civil or constitutional right to dissent is a casualty of their intent to retain that control," she says.
Calling itself the "ACORN 8," a splinter group founded by Inman and Reid has asked U.S. attorneys in several states to look into the Rathke embezzlement and the odd business practices of the nation's leading community-based left-wing activist group.
The antics of the hyper-aggressive ACORN, which has taken in at least $126.4 million in donations and tax dollars since 1993 yet owes millions of dollars in back taxes, have long cried out for a probe under federal racketeering laws. Now one might actually happen (if the Obama administration wants it to).
The members of the ACORN 8 allege that ACORN, with more than 100 known affiliate organizations, is an active, ongoing criminal enterprise whose primary business consists of shakedowns.
They want the feds to consider civil and criminal litigation under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, along with mail fraud, civil rights violations, and other charges against several current and former senior ACORN officials. The request for federal action came after the Buckeye Institute, a think tank, filed suit in the fall against ACORN and its vote fraud retailer, Project Vote, under Ohio's Corrupt Activity Act. The FBI has been investigating ACORN for some time, according to reports.
Notable among the would-be defendants named in the dissidents' complaint are ACORN chief organizer (CEO) Bertha Lewis, national president Maude Hurd, executive director Steven Kest, former political director Zach Pollett, and the Rathke brothers.
Wade Rathke was expelled from ACORN -- well, sort of.
According to ACORN board minutes, on June 20 it approved Inman's motion to immediately dismiss Rathke "from all employment with ACORN and its affiliated organizations or corporations." The motion also provided that Rathke "be removed from all boards & any leadership roles with ACORN or its affiliated organizations or corporations."
Yet Rathke remains on the boards of at least three ACORN affiliates, including New Orleans-based SEIU Local 100, ACORN International Inc. (a nonprofit group that aspires to spread the gospel of Saul Alinsky across the globe), and Affiliated Media Foundation Movement Inc. (which helps to start leftist community radio and TV stations). The SEIU local, which serves Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, even re-elected Rathke as its troublemaker-in-chief on Nov. 6.
So, if you're low on the totem pole at ACORN, as Inman and Reid were, you get walked over. If you're a Rathke, the normal rules don't apply.