FBI Opens Investigation Into ACORN

Farai Chideya talks with NPR correspondent Peter Overby about the FBI investigation of ACORN, the grassroots activist group under investigation for possible voter registration fraud.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

So, we're going to shift our focus from community outreach in general to a group that's getting a lot of attention, it is ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Nevada officials raided the group's Las Vegas office, and ACORN admits some of its workers falsified some voter registration forms.

Now, regional FBI offices are reported reviewing ACORN's activities in several states. Some political observers say the fight over ACORN has become partisan and overblown. So, what's the state of play, and how is ACORN planning to help with Get Out The Vote efforts?

With us we have Stephen Bradberry, national campaign coordinator for ACORN. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. STEPHEN BRADBERRY (National Campaign Coordinator, ACORN): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So, how have the allegations of voter-registration fraud affected your work on the ground?

Mr. BRADBERRY: Well, you know, we collected more than 1.3 million registration application. And we have continued our work, in spite of the charges that have been (unintelligible) against us.

And we will be working with - and we have maintained our relationship with local registration boards, in terms of the charges that were brought up, and making sure that they're aware of the cards that were not filled out correctly, and working with those boards to make sure that people who had in fact turned in bad cards bad times, you know, were brought to justice. And so, we'll continue in that fashion, to make sure that as many people have the opportunity to participate in this election as possible.

CHIDEYA: You're in New Orleans, and that's a part of the country that has dealt with a lot of pain and tragedy. And we spoke to a woman in - as in part of our voting series earlier this month, who basically talked about surviving Hurricane Ike, and how she was going to do everything she could to vote.

But that - it wasn't a high priority for people who didn't even have a house, didn't have a fixed address, how to drive 30 miles to get mail, didn't even know if the mail was coming through.

New Orleans has come a long way since Katrina, but how are people in general? What's the mood when you send people out on the street to try to register people to vote, or do - you know, prepare people to vote? What's the mood?

Mr. BRADBERRY: People are very excited about this election, and ever since going back to Hurricane Katrina, residents in the New Orleans area were very aware of the importance of maintaining their ability to participate in the electoral process. To vote is how we express our voice in the United States. And as much as we're able to do that, we started to put people out into the streets as you mentioned. And here in New Orleans, people are very excited about that opportunity.

CHIDEYA: When you think about this set of conversations about what ACORN has and hasn't done, including the fact that ACORN nationally has admitted, yeah, we did turn in some falsified registration forms. Do you think that it's hurting the work that you do? Is this - you've been for ACORN for over 10 years? Has the structure of how ACORN pays people to go out and canvass actually undermine the work that you're doing?

Mr. BRADBERRY: Well, I think it needs to be understood that when we say that were flaws in the cards, we are in most states, required to turn in every single registration card that we receive. And so, we take the extra measure of verifying the cards to make sure that they are good, and when we go down to the registrar of voters office to turn them in, we notify them of the ones that we have not been able to verify. So it's important for people to recognize that no, ACORN is not going out and trying to undermine the process, but we actually assist the process. And for all the talk this season about Project Vote and ACORN registering voters, it's important to know that nonprofit community organizations do not have the final authority to register anyone, only the government can register voters. And what Project Vote and ACORN do is assist Americans in filling out registration applications and submitting them to election officials who make the final determination of that eligibility.

CHIDEYA: What are you going to do on Election Day? What are your group's plans in terms of doing voter mobilization?

Mr. BRADBERRY: Well, in conjunction with many other organizations, we will certainly be doing phone calls and reminders to people to make sure that they do go out and vote. We'll do our best to make sure that everyone knows and understands the rules and laws as they apply in their locale, so that they have as few problems as possible in going to cast their votes.

CHIDEYA: Stephen, thank you.

Mr. BRADBERRY: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Stephen Bradberry is the national campaign coordinator for ACORN and now, for even more perspective, we've got Peter Overby, a Washington Desk correspondent for our own National Public Radio. Hi, Peter.

PETER OVERBY: Hey, how are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So, you've heard from Stephen and - put his remarks in context of what are the latest developments on the ACORN story overall?

OVERBY: OK. There are state investigations of ACORN in about a dozen states. There is an FBI investigation. What we don't know here is whether they're investigating the organization on suspicion of some sort of organized fraud type allegation or whether they're investigating the question of individual canvassers making up names to get their quota up - to meet their quota. Those are two very different issues if you look at the question of voting integrity in the election. Then this morning, the New York Times had a story. I've been away from the ACORN story for a couple of days and I apologize. But the Times had a story today about the 1.3 million new voters they have registered and they said that according that ACORN and Project Vote, people go back and look at those numbers, they're actually about 450,000 genuine new voters out of the 1.3 million.

About 400,000 were rejected for different reasons and it seems that about 9,000 of them were fraudulent in some way. So, that's quite a different picture from 1.3 million new voters. It seems to be that ACORN is a huge operation. They have a lot of offices with a lot of people, and the controls aren't as good as they should be, and this is something that's true in big and small voter registration operations on both sides.

CHIDEYA: What about the reaction by the presidential candidates? This seems to have gone far beyond a story that just affects this organization.

OVERBY: Absolutely. Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. So what are we seeing in terms of reaction from the candidates and from the parties?

OVERBY: The McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee have just been hammering on ACORN for several weeks now. Someone at the Republican National Committee, talking to reporters a little while ago, called it a quasi-criminal organization. They put it into this larger thing that they're working on of trying to maintain voter integrity, as they say. And it's really become exhibit A for them because it's a big target, and it's something that they can talk about the vote integrity issue and they can connect it to Obama because he did legal work for them and has had some other connections to them. And they gloss over the thing that you mentioned a few minutes ago about McCain working with ACORN as well back in '95 - or '96, excuse me.

CHIDEYA: Now, what are we expecting or what could we expect to have to cover as journalists about 'get out the vote' efforts? Because a lot of this is about registration, what we've been talking about, but then there's a whole separate 'get out the vote' issue of what groups can and can't do on that day. So what are some things to look at?

OVERBY: I think the main thing to look at would be what goes on at the polling places. What kinds of obstacles are put up for people coming in to vote? Working back from that, there are things like in New Hampshire, a couple of elections ago, the Republican State Committee briefly ran a campaign on Election Day. Robocalls to tie up the phones of the Democratic Party headquarters so people couldn't call in to get rides to the polls. There are things like that. And I would think that in an election as hard fought as this one has been, that people legitimately or otherwise are going to be playing all the angles that they can.

CHIDEYA: Peter, thank you.

OVERBY: My pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Peter Overby is a Washington desk correspondent for National Public Radio. And next on News & Notes, the iPhone has some party crashers. We'll get the latest on the clash of the smart phones from our tech contributor Mario Armstrong. And the Thelonious Monk Institute runs a jazz competition that focuses on one instrument each year. We'll check in on the year of the sax.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: You're listening to News & Notes from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.