The Louisiana Attorney General has opened an investigation into the community-organizing organization ACORN.
“All we can say is we are investigating,” wrote Tammi Arender, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office.
“We can't say much else since it's open.”
She encouraged anyone with credible information about ACORN to call investigators at (225) 326-6120.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been under pressure to investigate the nationwide organization, which is based in New Orleans. The chief complaints involve a case of a nearly $1 million embezzlement by the brother of the group’s founder which was never reported to authorities; the lack of accountability for the millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars that ACORN and its related groups have received over several years; and the potential for public money to be used by partisan affiliates of ACORN.
ACORN and its related Project Vote, a nationwide voter-registration drive, have earned the scorn of commentators and critics, who say the effort was a thinly veiled effort to push Democratic candidates and recruit new dues-paying ACORN members. ACORN workers in several states have been arrested in connection with voter-registration fraud, but the organization itself has not been charged with a crime.
Only last year did most of the 51-member governing board of ACORN learn of nearly $1 million in inappropriate charges to an ACORN credit account by Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder and then-leader Wade Rathke. Rather than report the incident to authorities, Wade Rathke worked with a smallgroup of ACORN leaders to arrange for a repayment schedule by his brother. After more than $200,000 was repaid, an outside donor stepped in and repaid the balance.
Even so, news of alleged crime and the quiet handling of the repayment rocked the organization. A splinter of the governing board has broken off and is demanding that the group open its books to public inspection. The Acorn 8 says it wants to return the group to its roots of giving a voiceto and empowering low-income people.
They’re concerned that the organization has moved away from that mission and is improperly getting involved in politics.
The Project Vote effort is a tax-exempt charity, and is not allowed to participate in partisan politics. But an internal report by an ACORN attorney raised questions about whether the registration drive was kept separate from other allowable political activities by ACORN.
According to an October story in The New York Times, the lawyer, Elizabeth Kingsley, “found that the tight relationship between Project Vote and Acorn made it impossible to document that Project Vote’s money had been used in a strictly nonpartisan manner. Until the embezzlement scandal broke last summer, Project Vote’s board was made up entirely of Acorn staff members and Acorn members. Ms. Kingsley’s report raised concerns not only about a lack of documentation to demonstrate that no charitable money was used for political activities but also about which organization controlled strategic decisions.”
Alternatively referred to by critics as “radical” and “mob-like” in its tactics, ACORN bills itself as the nation’s largest grassroots movement, with more than 400,000 members in 110 cities. Its Web site says its membership consists of “low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.”
Rarely shy in their tactics, ACORN members have made headlines by storming corporate meetings and board rooms, as well as picketing in front of the homes of politicians, to demand action on their programs they say are aimed at social justice. Before its workers drew attention by submitting bogus voter registrations in the name of Mickey Mouse and the like, the groups was best known for pushing “living wage” ordinances in various cities. Those efforts called on governments and their contractors to pay more than the national minimum wage.
Such an effort in New Orleans resulted in voters approving a first-in-the-nation minimum wage citywide in 2002, setting the bottom at $1 above the national minimum. That measure, however, was struck down in court.