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Johanns: Obama ‘Tone-Deaf’ on ACORN


The New York Times reports that Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s chief executive, lashed out at her group’s critics on Tuesday, decrying their investigation efforts as nothing more than “modern-day ACORN McCarthyism.”

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) tells NRO that Lewis’s comments are “simply wrong.”

“I’d remind Ms. Lewis that her employees were caught on tape advising how to get minor children into the United States for participation in the sex trade,” says Johanns. “Her employees have been caught counseling on how to avoid the IRS code. They have had problems with voter fraud in state after state after state. This is not a right-wing effort, but a bipartisan one that has been brought up in the House and in the Senate.”

Earlier this week, Johanns and Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) introduced a bill to cut off all federal funding to any organization whose employees have been convicted of voter fraud. This bill comes after Johanns successfully barred ACORN from receiving funding via three recent spending bills. His strategy of reducing funding to ACORN bill by bill may be slow and piecemeal, but Johanns says it’s the only way, for now, to make sure that the group’s ties to the federal government are severed. “I’m literally in the position where I can only go appropriation bill after appropriation bill to stop the funding source in each bill,” says Johanns. “There are a couple pieces of legislation I’ve signed on to that would shut off the money completely, wherever it came from, but we’re not sure at this point if that will pass.”

Other Republicans in Congress have also been looking for new ways to end ACORN’s relationship with the federal government. In the House, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R., Kan.) has proposed ending ACORN’s tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. (To read Tiahrt’s interview with NRO, go here.) Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Tex.) is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate ACORN. (To read Smith’s interview with NRO, go here.)

“There have been a variety of requests for investigations, and letters sent to the IRS, GAO, Department of Justice, and the Office of the Inspector General,” says Johanns. “These things need to start to kick in so that Congress can begin to build a body of evidence and find out whether there was any criminal exposure, civil exposure, or any other legal violations. Those would all be reasons to revoke its tax-exempt status. All of these letters, bills, and related efforts fit together because we’re trying to get a complete picture of what’s actually going on with this organization.”

President Obama, Johanns says, needs to step up and voice his support for these investigations. Johanns, who served as secretary of agriculture in the Bush administration, says that the executive branch has a crucial role to play in addressing ACORN.

“Having been a cabinet member, I know that the president is free to run the executive branch how he sees fit,” says Johanns. “Yet, when I see federal departments still giving out grants to ACORN, I’m just astounded. You have all of this congressional action, and the executive branch seems absolutely oblivious. I don’t get it. Talk about being tone-deaf. If these were purely partisan votes in Congress, then I’d understand it; but this has been an enormous bipartisan effort.”

“The best thing President Obama could do is say, ‘Let’s sit tight on any funding until all investigations are complete,’” says Johanns. “He should direct his cabinet to cooperate with these investigations. I hope somebody over at the White House engages with this. The thought of more federal dollars going out to ACORN infuriates taxpayers. This is important, and demands a straightforward, bipartisan solution. It isn’t one where the Republicans are ganging up on anybody. My friends on both sides of the aisle are working on this.”

Last month, in recognition of Johanns’s leadership on this issue, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) honored him with its highly coveted (and aptly named) “Nutcracker Award.”


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