For a moment on Monday, the Senate was mostly empty: a few staffers haggling by the door, a handful of senators milling about. Then Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) took the floor to speak in support of his amendment to H.R. 3288, a housing and transportation spending bill. Johanns’s amendment was short, as was his speech, and both shared one simple goal: to stop ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, from receiving federal housing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“I had started to work on the amendment late last week, and filed it on Friday,” Johanns tells NRO. “I’ve been looking into these issues for a long time. There’s a history there.” Still, he says, “I had no idea if the amendment would get bipartisan support.”
A couple minutes into his remarks, Johanns looked up and got his answer. “The senators started to file in,” he says. “I took it very seriously, that this amendment was going to be a bipartisan effort. I wasn’t sure at first about the final vote count, then, as the votes built, and statement after statement came in support, I knew this would not break on partisan lines. I was very, very thankful. It was a clear statement from the Senate: You can’t break the law and expect to get federal benefits.”
Johanns’s provision ended up passing, 83 votes in support and seven in opposition. It was a blow to ACORN, to be sure. Yet Johanns’s amendment was just the latest of many recent disasters for the ubiquitous community organizers. As John Fund points out in the Wall Street Journal
Last week, 11 of [ACORN's] workers were accused by Florida prosecutors of falsifying information on 888 voter registration forms. Last month, Acorn’s former Las Vegas, Nev., field director, Christopher Edwards, agreed to testify against the group in a case in which Las Vegas election officials say 48 percent of the voter-registration forms the group turned in were ‘clearly fraudulent.’ ACORN itself is charged with 13 counts of illegally using a quota system to compensate workers in an effort to boost the number of registrations. (Acorn has denied wrongdoing in all of these cases.)
Last Friday, the Census Bureau announced that it would no longer work with the group on the 2010 census, after video evidence of alleged impropriety was published on BigGovernment.com. Damning video of questionable tax-advice conferrals between ACORN employees and documentarians posing as a prostitute and a pimp have been clandestinely recorded in at least four cities (Baltimore, New York, San Bernardino, and Washington, D.C.). ACORN employees happily provided advice on acquiring entitlement dollars to the professed sex-industry entrepreneurs — even after being told that their brothel would be staffed by illegal-alien prositutes as young as twelve years old. “You can claim them as dependents,” the ACORN rep ghoulishly counseled.
“These problems with ACORN have been around for a long time,” says Johanns. Speaking about the videos, he adds that “if it was a one-off event, with one employee, you could make the argument that the employee simply wasn’t paying attention. But, when you evaluate the video shot at so many different ACORN offices, the theme is the same: Here is how to break the law.”
With H.R. 3288 now heading back to the House, Johanns says it is time to “look across the entire federal budget to find pockets where ACORN has been able to get money. My amendment, to be germane, had to relate to this budget.” House Republican leader John Boehner (R., Ohio), has followed Johanns’s advice, announcing Tuesday that he will introduce legislation (the Defund ACORN Act) to sever all ties between the federal government and ACORN.
“Congressman Boehner’s efforts are right on target,” says Johanns. “ACORN shouldn’t get a dime of federal money, either from a federal department or a federal budget process. This needs to stop. Keep in mind that this issue will now go to conference, where similar language does not exist in the House bill. The conference can choose to ignore the action of the Senate.”
If House Democrats ignore his amendment, Johanns says Republicans and concerned Democrats will be relentless in opposition. “Talk about a volcanic eruption,” he says. “Every House member and senator who opposed funding for ACORN would be on every single local radio station in America talking about how outrageous that is. For now, we’ll continue to bring these issues up and seek support from the public.”
House Republicans are already speaking up. Nonetheless, Johanns cautions that when bills go to conference, things can get complicated. “Conferences are mysterious things,” he says. “You could end up with a strong vote on the Senate floor, that’s not the problem. The problem is that there’s not much you can do with a conference report. There’s very little debate, no amendments. You’re stuck with what you get.”