In July, before an overarching Wall Street bailout was part of the national vocabulary, President Bush signed a piece of legislation called the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. This bill provided funds to bail out bad borrowers and grants for states to buy foreclosed homes. It also created a permanent “Affordable Housing Trust Fund” — a large slush fund that conservatives complained would be exploited by such left-wing groups as ACORN, which has its own housing corporation, allowing them to fund political activities.
But that law, which also included a belated and vain attempt to save Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, contains a provision which becomes pertinent in light of the ongoing voter-fraud scandal involving ACORN’s submission of apparently fraudulent voter registrations in several states. An amendment to the housing bill, submitted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), contains the following language:
SEC. 2304. LIMITATION ON DISTRIBUTION OF FUNDS.
(a) IN GENERAL. — None of the funds made available under this title or title IV shall be distributed to —
(1) an organization which has been indicted for a violation under Federal law relating to an election for Federal office; or
(2) an organization which employs applicable individuals.
“Applicable individuals” is then defined to include contractors, permanent employees, and others acting under a group’s authority, who are indicted on federal charges related to elections to federal office.
This provision made it into the bill on unanimous consent on April 9, amid several other amendments, to the notice of almost no one. It is rather obvious from the context that DeMint had ACORN in mind when he wrote it. While there may not ever have been federal election-related charges laid against ACORN employees, there have been a number of state charges, indictments, and convictions.
ACORN engages in many forms of left-wing activism, often employing the intimidation tactics made popular by Saul Alinsky, the father of community organizing and a role model to presidential candidate Barack Obama. The group has waged campaigns against Wal-Mart, against welfare reform, and in favor of “living wage” laws. In October 2005, the group was accused of flooding a non-union hospital’s emergency room with patients they had bused in from far away as part of a unionization pressure campaign. ACORN also controls the ACORN Housing Corporation, which along with its local affiliates has received at least $29 million in federal taxpayer funds since 1998 (other ACORN-related groups have received an additional $2 million).
ACORN also runs large voter-registration drives that are famous mostly for signing up fake voters. These have received much attention in the past month. In the revised and updated 2008 edition of his book Stealing Elections, the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund documents that, during the 2006 election, ACORN workers submitted some 35,000 registrations in Kansas City, Missouri — 40 percent of which were determined to be fake. Only after officials from the Kansas City Board of Elections submitted the evidence to the FBI did ACORN cooperate and identify the perpetrators among its staff. Between Kansas City and St. Louis, 12 ACORN workers were convicted of fraud.
The group submitted 1,805 registrations in Washington State’s King County just after the registration deadline in 2006. After the indictments in Missouri, local election officials examined these forms and found that 97 percent of them were bogus. They included registrations for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.), a variety of New York Times op-ed columnists, and someone named “Fruto Boy.” ACORN paid a $25,000 settlement to King County to pay for the investigation of their activities rather than face indictment.
John Fund interviewed ACORN officials for this timely edition of his book, which examines various attempts to degrade the integrity of American elections. They offered a variety of excuses and promises to institute better quality controls. Yet, time after time, in state after state, ACORN’s mischief has continued. Nevada authorities raided ACORN offices this year after the group submitted voter-registration forms bearing the names of numerous members of the Dallas Cowboys’ starting lineup.
In the many states where ACORN operates, employees have told a similar story. Motivated by fear of losing their jobs, ACORN workers have committed fraud in order to meet the registration quotas set for them by the organization. Before the 2006 election in Missouri, ACORN organizers were required — under pain of termination — to collect 200 petition signatures daily for a ballot initiative. In Ohio, ACORN workers this year must sign up between 22 and 26 new voters every day.
Stories of fraudulent activity in Ohio (ACORN workers submitted 8,700 suspicious registrations in Cuyahoga County alone) and in other states this year have received the attention of the FBI, which is examining whether there could be a national pattern of fraud. In the event of a federal indictment, DeMint’s amendment could directly affect ACORN’s housing corporation and its eligibility for federal grants.
A federal indictment may never materialize, and the group may be able to skirt this law by disowning a few employees. But the law still provides an excellent rhetorical argument for the discretionary termination of the federal government’s entire housing partnership with ACORN. As long as Uncle Sam is handing out tax dollars for “affordable housing,” surely it can find a more worthy recipient than a group that acts either with systemic malice toward election laws or with such intractable incompetence that its abuses of the law apparently cannot be stopped.
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.