The GOP Escalates Its Nutty Attacks on ACORN

In recent weeks, conservatives have escalated their attacks on ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Conservative lawmakers were able to remove a provision aimed at aiding low-income housing programs from the Bush administration's $700 billion economic bailout bill by calling it a "slush fund" for ACORN. Before that, conservatives blamed ACORN for "precipitating the subprime crisis." And last week, they alleged that the "purpose" of ACORN is to engage in voter fraud. However, as columnist Joel McNally correctly noted, the "underlying motive for attacking ACORN" seems to be that it is the "nation's largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people." "It is an organization that engages in that dreaded community organizing," McNally wrote. "It actually tries to give a voice to the poor and most vulnerable among us." Indeed, after years of enacting policies catering to the wealthy, the right-wing seems to be fearful of millions of new low-income voters registered by ACORN casting their ballots in favor of progressive policies.


VOTER 'FRAUD': In early October, ACORN announced that it had registered 1.3 million new voters for the November election. Seizing on reports of apparently fraudulent voter registrations in some states, conservatives began claiming that the "purpose" of ACORN is to commit "voter fraud." However, all that was found during a raid of ACORN's office in Nevada was apparently fraudulent voter registration forms, which do not constitute voter fraud. "It's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on election day and tries to pass himself off as 'Tony Romo.'" And who would try to do that?" wrote Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL). As New York University's Brennan Center for Justice noted, "[T]here are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of [false] registrants." Under most state laws, in fact, voter registration organizations like ACORN are required to turn in all the forms they receive, even the suspicious ones. Furthermore, as Brad Friedman pointed out in the Guardian, "[I]f [ACORN] can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic ... In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers."


THE ECONOMIC CRISIS: Before alleging that it was engaging in voter fraud, conservatives claimed that ACORN was responsible for the subprime crisis and the ensuing financial meltdown. Stanley Kurtz wrote in the National Review that ACORN "had a major role in precipitating the subprime crisis," and then said in the New York Post that ACORN helped "undermine the US economy by pushing the banking system into a sinkhole of bad loans." Thomas DiLorenzo claimed that ACORN forced lenders to make bad loans to low-income people "through a process that sounds like legalized extortion." However, the claim that ACORN -- or loans to low-income people in general -- caused the financial crisis by enabling lower-income families to buy homes has been debunked again and again. As Daniel Gross wrote in Newsweek, "[D]id AIG plunge into the credit-default swaps business with abandon because ACORN members picketed its offices? Please." Most economists blame the current crisis on market failure and sparse regulation, but conservatives are attempting to draw attention elsewhere by smearing the victims of predatory lending and implicating ACORN.

A LONG-RUNNING CAMPAIGN: Last Friday, conservative members of Congress "sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting the Department of Justice ensure that the actions of ACORN did not violate federal laws." But conservatives have gone down this road before, only to find nothing. In 2004, ACORN faced three lawsuits pertaining to alleged voter fraud, all of which were dismissed. As noted at the time, "several politically motivated law firms brought baseless charges of voter registration fraud against ACORN in an effort to inhibit its work to register low-income and minority voters." But the Bush administration was so intent on furthering these trumped-up charges of voter fraud that in 2006 attorneys from the Department of Justice -- including New Mexico's David Iglesias -- were fired for not pursuing fraud cases "to the satisfaction of their bosses." Revealing the shallowness of the conservative outrage though, the New York Times reported last week that "tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law." This has garnered scant attention compared to the uproar surrounding ACORN.

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