Despite the Facts, the ACORN Witch Hunt Continues

"This story is bigger than ACORN. And that's what we're going to try to get folks to continue to focus on."

On Christmas Eve, buried on page A24 of my edition of the New York Times, was this story: "The controversial community organizing group Acorn has not broken any laws in the last five years, according to a Congressional Research Service report released Tuesday evening."  

Indeed, the CRS report--requested in September by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank--finds no instances in which ACORN "violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years," and no instances of individuals allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN "attempting to vote at the polls."

Good to see that the New York Times ran the story.  But the placement and the timing--after 18 months of screaming headlines and attacks vilifying the anti-poverty group--is reminiscent of the McCarthy era when individuals and organizations were ruined by allegations that ran as front page news, while later evidence that vindicated them was relegated to the back pages.  There was little accountability for the false accusations, little redemption for those whose lives had been shattered.

A "new McCarthyism" is seen in the manner in which guilt by association has been pursued by the likes of Glenn Beck and "mainstream" GOP leadership (if there is such a thing).  A report by People for the American Way describes, for example, how "attacks on widely respected judicial nominee David Hamilton treated his one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was 22 years old as if it had constituted a major portion of his career."

In the case of ACORN, not only does the CRS Report refute recent charges of financial impropriety and voter fraud against it, but so does a report by Scott Harshbarger, former Attorney General of Massachusetts and former president of Common Cause, whom ACORN quickly turned to for an independent audit when the damaging video tapes surfaced. 

Harshbarger writes of the videotape content, "While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers."  (The videographers might be facing their own legal troubles.  The CRS report finds that taping face-to-face conversations without consent appears to violate California and Maryland state laws.)

But facts be damned, CRS notes that as of October 2009, ACORN had been subjected to at least 46 federal, state, and local investigations.  And too many good Democrats were swept up in the witch hunt hysteria, moving quickly to defund ACORN based on the rants of Beck, Bachmann, and Boehner. 

One who rose above the fray was New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler who courageously spoke out against House legislation as unconstitutional for singling out ACORN for punishment--known as a "bill of attainder."  Last month, the federal courts agreed with Nadler's opinion.  

"The court made the right decision in this case," Nadler wrote me in an e-mail.  "I am gratified that my analysis of the punitive and blatantly unconstitutional bill of attainder has been vindicated by the judiciary."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the publisher of The Nation
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