The controversial community group ACORN will no longer be the national network it once was. Instead, state chapters are expected to form new, independent groups that will do similar work in low-income neighborhoods.
The dramatic change in the 40-year-old organization is the result of a loss of funding after the release of embarrassing undercover videos. They showed ACORN workers advising a couple who were posing as a pimp and a prostitute on how to avoid the law.
A call to ACORN's New York City office on Tuesday elicited the following message: "ACORN is not providing services in New York. But if you would like to receive information from local organizations with similar purposes, please leave your name, number and mailing address after the beep."
ACORN New York no longer exists. Leaders there decided it would be better to shut down and form a new organization called New York Communities for Change. It's located in the same Brooklyn office and will essentially do many of the things ACORN did: helping low-income neighborhoods with housing, jobs and government services.
"New York Communities for Change is going to pick up where ACORN left off," spokesman Jonathan Rosen says.
Rosen says the decision to no longer be affiliated with the national organization came out of frustration with the ongoing assault against ACORN, largely by conservatives who've called the liberal group a criminal enterprise.
"I think our members were just sick and tired of their work being held hostage and being dictated by a national political conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with the work they're doing on the ground in New York City," Rosen says.
ACORN's California chapter, with 48,000 members, did the same thing last month, reorganizing into something called the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.
A Smaller ACORN
Bertha Lewis, ACORN's national CEO, says another 10 or 12 state chapters appear ready to follow suit. The remaining chapters, she says, might be too devastated by funding cuts to survive, resulting in the national organization not having on-the-ground local chapters.
Lewis says ACORN will instead be much smaller, without the hundreds of thousands of grass-roots members it once had.
"We're going to try to continue as the national group to speak out on issues," Lewis says. "But how long we'll be able to survive to do that is anybody's guess, because the right has definitely, definitely dealt us a mortal blow."
Although right-wing critics led the charge against ACORN, the group lost broad support after the release of the videos. Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to ban ACORN and its affiliates from getting millions of dollars in federal funds. Major foundations that funded ACORN's poverty work also withdrew their support.
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King says he's not fooled by a little reorganization.
"If you have the same people in place, doing the same things over and over again, just with a different jersey on, nothing changes," King said.
He said he's still waiting for the results of state investigations into the group's operations.
ACORN fired the employees in the video and says it has fixed internal problems. It also notes that the Congressional Research Service recently found no evidence that ACORN misused federal funds. The group is challenging the congressional funding ban in court as unconstitutional, but Lewis says even a favorable decision now would be too late for the organization to survive as is.