ACORN Grapples With Fallout Of Damaging Videos

In the video that's been splashed all over cable TV and the Internet, a young man posing as a pimp and a young woman posing as a prostitute are talking with an employee from the community organization known as ACORN.

YouTube Videos

Videos made by conservative activist and filmmaker James O'Keefe.

But instead of giving advice on taxes and home loans, the employee in Washington, D.C., tells the couple how to buy a house without letting anyone know it's being used for prostitution.

"All that somebody needs to do is get wind that you've got a house and your girlfriend is over there running a house of women of the night," she says. "You will not have a career. You will be smeared and tarnished for life to come."

The man is really conservative activist and filmmaker James O'Keefe, with his colleague, Hannah Giles. Their undercover videos have set off an avalanche of criticism against the liberal nonprofit, which has long been accused by conservatives of misusing federal funds and falsifying voter registration forms.

"This is shocking," Fox talk show host Glenn Beck, who has been leading the charge, said this week. "It raises serious questions about what is going on inside of ACORN. ACORN [will] say, you watch, 'Just another rogue employee. We had nothing to do with her.' Really? How many employees do you have like that?"

Hopefully none anymore, says ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. She says all the employees involved in the videos have been fired.

"We were just as shocked, surprised as anyone," she says. "I will not tolerate that sort of behavior on my watch."

She says the group is reviewing its training procedures and will have an independent investigator look into what happened. But the videos have begun something that might be difficult to stop.

"This is a group that quite honestly has found a comfort zone in operating outside the boundaries of the law," said Republican Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who along with other Republicans has asked the Justice Department to investigate ACORN. He also sponsored a Senate amendment barring the group from getting federal housing grants. There's a similar move afoot in the House.

"I just don't believe taxpayers want their money to go to an organization like that," he said.

On Monday, 82 other senators — including a lot of Democrats — agreed, voting to cut off the grants. It's the first time such sweeping action has been taken against ACORN.

To Lewis, though, it's all part of something bigger: a well-orchestrated, partisan campaign to destroy her organization.

"This is like modern-day McCarthyism. 'Do you know ACORN? Do you associate with ACORN? Don't you think ACORN's bad?' I mean, we've been doing good work for 40 years," she said.

And Lewis thinks it's that work — pushing for a higher minimum wage, more affordable housing and the registration of low-income voters — that has made ACORN a prime target for conservatives in its battle with the Obama administration over a host of issues. Indeed, Republicans and conservatives have been going after ACORN with a vengeance for years. More recently, they've been trying to link the group to President Obama.

"From top to bottom, it's just a corrupt organization, and they're surrounding the president of the United States. He's working with them side by side," Fox's Beck said on Tuesday.

There's no evidence to support that, and on Wednesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the behavior of the ACORN workers on the videotapes was "completely unacceptable." He said he assumes federal agencies constantly evaluate grants to make sure recipients are fulfilling the requirements.

ACORN has received millions over the years, but Lewis says federal funds make up only about 2 percent of the group's budget. She said ACORN plans to continue its work helping the poor, with or without government aid.

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