ACORN: The Most Cost-Effective Investment the Government (and Foundations) Have Ever Made
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Early this year, the conservative blog, Provocateur said about ACORN's board members, "They rose through the ranks of ACORN, often starting as foot soldiers fighting for causes near and dear to them. Since ACORN is often associated with causes for poor, most of the board are themselves poor. As such, they are often rather unsophisticated, and thus will be overwhelmed by the sophisticated nature of the organization itself."
ACORN has been a target of the right virtually since its founding. During the l980s and early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush's Department of Labor convened a grand jury to investigate ACORN's relationship to the progressive labor union SEIU.
The investigation was dropped after Bill Clinton took office. The President George W. Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was forced to quit in part because he fired several U.S. attorneys who refused to go after ACORN's voter-registration efforts when they found no evidence of alleged voter fraud.
ACORN's bottom-up and coordinated structure has enabled it to confront national corporations in a way few other organizations can.
When Reagan and the first President Bush's regulators failed to enforce the Community Reinvestment Act, ACORN and other groups conducted their own studies.
They identified banks with patterns of discriminatory lending, exposed these practices to the media and then demanded regulators do their jobs. The combination of publicity and confrontations led many lenders to agree to make loans to borrowers who could afford them.
Later, ACORN helped to get the Treasury Department to reverse its 10-year-old ruling that federal rules pre-empted 35 state laws curbing prepayment penalties that were costing borrowers more than $2 billion a year.
ACORN's provision of services has also enabled it to see national problems before they become national problems. Its mortgage counseling for lower-income households led it to sound the alarm about an industry that was manipulating families into taking out risky loans.
ACORN called adjustable-rate mortgages with teaser rates ticking time bombs. It beseeched Congress to not deregulate an increasingly irresponsible banking industry.
Conservatives call ACORN's confrontation tactics "shakedowns" or "extortions," for they often result in large corporations shelling out money.
I call it justice.
ACORN doesn't have the power to fine corporations or put their executives in jail for misdeeds. It only has the power to ask those who have done harm to pay to reduce that harm and prevent future injury.
In its 1993 campaign against insurance redlining, ACORN targeted Allstate and held actions in offices in l4 cities.
Allstate signed an agreement creating a $10 million program to offer below-market mortgages to low-income buyers.
In 2000, ACORN began a national campaign to combat the predatory lending practices of Household Finance Corp., one of nation's largest subprime lenders. ACORN used lawsuits as well as direct action, resulting in a $150 million class-action settlement that included $72 million for a foreclosure-avoidance program.
As ACORN grew, it often created tensions with existing organizations in its new cities. It got a reputation for not playing well with others. But few questioned its effectiveness.
Sometimes the scope of ACORN's activities is breathtaking.
In 2008, John Atlas and Peter Dreier, who have followed ACORN closely for many years, listed some local news stories about ACORN in the previous few weeks.
The New York Times wrote about ACORN's successful campaign to save 5,881 rental units of working-class housing in Brooklyn.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Orlando Sentinel reported on ACORN's local voter registration drive.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounted an ACORN demonstration at a local bank, with members blowing whistles and chanting “Criminal offenders, predatory lenders.”