Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sorting out the truth on Obama, ACORN

By Angie Drobnic Holan
Published on Friday, October 17th, 2008 at 05:56 p.m.

SUMMARY: McCain and the GOP link Obama and ACORN, but the connection seems more partisan then perilous.

With Election Day less than a month away, John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee have been warning voters of Barack Obama and his ties to the community organizing group ACORN.

ACORN was founded in 1970; its acronym stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN's agenda includes left-leaning causes such as voter registration drives for low-income groups, initiatives to increase the minimum wage and programs offering help to victims of predatory lending.

By all indications, ACORN operates within the American political mainstream, though clearly it favors the left side of the ideological spectrum. Its voter registration efforts tend to focus on the low-income, minorities and youth, all traditional Democratic constituencies. Obama received an endorsement from the group's political action committee in February 2008 when the Democratic primary was in full swing. But that's not to say Republicans never support ACORN's efforts: McCain himself appeared at a 2006 rally in favor of immigration reform, sponsored in part by ACORN.

The primary allegation against ACORN is that its voter registration drives result in many phony registrations. ACORN itself admits that some of its workers, in their attempts to meet registration goals, have turned in registration forms for people who do not exist or don't live in the geographic area. (Notorious examples include Mickey Mouse and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.) ACORN says the problems are isolated, and that it works with officials to correct them. They claim to have registered 1.3-million people to vote, so a small number of irregularities are to be expected. (For more on ACORN and the controversy surrounding its voter registration drives, read the St. Petersburg Times story here.)

Several states are investigating the group's voter registration efforts. McCain brought up ACORN at the candidates' final debate on Oct. 15, 2008, saying that ACORN was "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." The next day, press reports cited anonymous sources saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the group, but ACORN said it had had no contact with federal investigators.

On Oct. 17, the Obama campaign blasted the leakers, saying it was evidence that law enforcement was in an "unholy alliance" with partisan political operatives to undermine public confidence in the voting process. The campaign released a letter it sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking for an investigation. "Republican Party officials and operatives nationwide, including the candidates themselves, are formenting specious voter fraud allegations, and there are disturbing indications of official involvement or collusion," wrote Robert Bauer, general counsel to the Obama campaign.

It's unknown what the results of the ongoing investigations will be, but past investigations might give us some indication. In 2007 in King County, Wash., prosecutors filed charges against seven ACORN workers and reached a civil agreement with ACORN that the organization would monitor its workers more carefully.

"A joint federal and state investigation has determined that this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting," said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg at the time. "Instead, the defendants cheated their employer, ACORN, to get paid for work they did not actually perform. ACORN's lax oversight of their own voter registration drive permitted this to happen."

No comments: