ACORN To Disband Amid Scandal, Money Woes
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The community organizing group ACORN has announced that it is shutting down after 40 years in business. The decision was made this weekend by the group's board, in it follows last year's release of a secretly taped video. A conservative activist made that video which showed ACORN workers giving advice on how to conceal money made from prostitution.
NPR's Pam Fessler has been following this controversy and joins us now.
And Pam, what led the group to take this step?
PAM FESSLER: Well, Robert, this is something that's actually been in the work for several weeks now. And it's largely due to the fact that they were running out of money.
After those videos were released, as you'll probably recall, Congress quickly voted to cut off all federal funding for ACORN and its affiliates. It used a lot of that money for anti-poverty work.
At the same time, charitable foundations, which also supported ACORN also started withdrawing their support from the group. And so that left ACORN with little choice but they had to shut down some of their local offices. They had to let workers go. And at the same time, some of their largest state chapters decided to distance themselves from the group and to reorganize under new names. So that left the national organization a little more than a shell.
SIEGEL: So what happens now, those state and local organizations continue under different names?
FESSLER: Yes, and ACORN says its going to shut down any remaining state chapters by April 1st. Then essentially its just going to be, you know, cleaning out the offices and paying off any debts it has.
One of the ironic things is that just two weeks ago a federal judge ruled that that cut off of funding that Congress enacted last year is, in fact, unconstitutional, that is the bill of attainder. The Justice Department is appealing that decision. But in any case, it was too late for the group.
SIEGEL: Now, ACORN has long been a target of conservatives. Theyve accused it of voter registration fraud. Theyve accused it, in some cases, of criminal activity. Were there actually any grounds for those charges or was this just politics?
FESSLER: Well, I think definitely there was a lot of politics behind these accusations. Conservatives have gone after ACORN for years with a vengeance. And many of the charges against ACORN were overblown. But that said, ACORN also made itself very vulnerable to attacks. It was not very well managed, in a lot of cases. There was a big embezzlement scheme last year involving the founders brother involving a million dollars that was embezzled that the group tried to cover up and this made it very vulnerable to these attacks. But mostly, theres been no evidence of it doing anything illegal. Its voter registration drive, for example, its gotten a lot of attention. Republicans accused them of voter fraud, but it was actually ACORN officials who turned in many of those false voter registration forms. They said that they were the victims of these people that they hire to go out and conduct some of these registration drives. But because ACORN tended to register a lot of Democrats, they were a big target for conservatives and Republicans.
SIEGEL: Okay, Pam, thank you.
FESSLER: Youre welcome.
SIEGEL: Thats NPRs Pam Fessler on todays development that the community organizing group ACORN is shutting down after 40 years.
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