Ken Blackwell: An ACORN Falls from the Tree
This column originally appeared on National Review Online on September 30, 2008.
As negotiations over Congress’s emergency rescue bill continued over the weekend, repeated rumors leaked out that the Democrats were trying to funnel money to a hyper-partisan organization involved in criminal voter fraud. I’m speaking of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — known by its acronym, ACORN. Although ACORN was cut from the final legislation, it’s important to understand this organization and its long history with, of all people, Barack Obama. And it’s important to see how partisan this emergency legislation has become.
As the weekend progressed, reports were constantly emerging of the sticking points preventing a final agreement. One of these reputed points of contention was whether 20 percent of the profit proceedings for asset sales in the future would go to what is called the Housing Trust Fund, subsidizing certain groups for ostensibly nonpartisan activity. One of these groups that this trust supports is ACORN.
ACORN has often been in the news since 2004. Officially, they work to register voters and support housing. In reality, everyone in public life knows that they are hardcore supporters for the Democratic Party, and employ bare-knuckle tactics. Their organization is plagued by repeated investigations of voter fraud and other crimes.
In Ohio, where as secretary of state I oversaw elections for eight years, ACORN has been busy. One ACORN man in Reynoldsburg was indicted on two felony counts of voter fraud, and another was indicted in Columbus. Other such problems surfaced in Cuyahoga County, where criminal investigations are ongoing.
It’s not just Ohio. ACORN personnel are facing criminal charges in over a dozen states. In Washington State, for example, seven ACORN leaders had felony charges filed against them for voter fraud.
And there’s an unexpected twist. One of the organizations accused of pushing banks into making many of the unwise loans at the heart of the current crisis is … ACORN. Now that’s ironic. An organization that possibly contributed to our current financial profits is now being considered to make money off of it. And by “money,” I’m referring to your tax money.
Twice already this year Congress has funneled money to ACORN. Some report that February’s economic stimulus included funds for ACORN, as did the bill to help people struggling with mortgages passed this April.
What deserves closer scrutiny is Barack Obama’s history with ACORN. Obama cites Saul Alinsky, a self-acknowledged radical who advocated extreme acts to achieve social goals, as one of his inspirations. ACORN follows the Saul Alinsky model. After Obama graduated from Harvard, he went to work for ACORN in Chicago. Mr. Obama then became a trainer for ACORN, teaching others how to employ ACORN tactics in voter registration drives.
This ACORN involvement coincides with the increasing partisanship of this situation.
Congressional Democrats, and specifically Mr. Obama, are now saying that the problem underlying all this is “deregulation,” pushed by the Republicans. There are two fundamental flaws with this allegation.
First, this is not deregulation. This is not the private sector. Fannie and Freddie are government creations, that pay their executives millions of dollars but are shielded with your tax money from suffering the downside risk of the market. Engage in racetrack-style financing, they must be strictly controlled. Deregulation is about keeping government from hobbling the private sector and hamstringing its ingenuity and productivity. Deregulation does not apply.
Second, Republicans have tried to rein in Fannie and Freddie. Republican attempts to reform them in 1999 failed. In 2003, when Alan Greenspan testified about how Fannie and Freddie’s loose practices could endanger our financial system, it was Democrat Barney Frank who said these institutions were fundamentally sound, and should be more aggressive in getting loans to low-income people. In 2005, a Republican reform passed the Senate Banking Committee on a party-line vote, only to be blocked by Democrats from passing the full Senate. And in 2006 when John McCain spoke on the Senate floor of the need to reform Fannie and Freddie immediately, Democrats (including Barack Obama) would not respond.
You can also see where Fannie and Freddie look for protection by where they direct their money. Public records show that the top two recipients of Fannie/Freddie campaign contributions are Sens. Chris Dodd and Barack Obama, taking $165,000 and $126,000, respectively. Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, and Mr. Obama, who says he’s going to remedy the whole situation.
It suddenly seems so clear why Democrats want ACORN to get some of the taxpayers’ money. I have unapologetically criticized Republicans, some by name, for out-of-control spending, lack of accountability, and other inexcusable actions that have tarnished the GOP and disserved the nation. And there are other issues that are either both parties’ fault, or no one’s fault.
But here, the Democrats are squarely to blame. They have resisted all attempts at reforming Fannie and Freddie, and pushed those organizations to become ever more reckless in their policies. This made the investments on Wall Street carrying those tainted mortgages go from bad to worse, and now we’re in a crisis and on the verge of a meltdown.
This is inexcusable. And if independent voters figure this out, their outrage over this situation will suddenly be directed against the party that pushed these disastrous policies. So Democrats want ACORN to get as much funding as possible, because they might need some new votes in their column on Election Day.
Voter fraud is in one sense the worst crime against democracy. The sole means of democratically choosing leaders is through voting. Every voter gets an equal vote. Every citizen who is a law-abiding adult has an equal voice in who will govern us. Our vote is sacred. Those engaging in voter fraud are in one sense no different than who intimidated voters at the polls in years past. Voter fraud may not be attended by the suffering that accompanied the beatings and water hoses of those days, but the assault on democracy is no less real.
ACORN is a discredited organization, and far too many of its leaders and workers have been prosecuted for felonies against democracy. The idea that a single dime of taxpayer money would ever go to such a group is an outrage.
And Mr. Obama needs to explain his involvement with them.
— Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio secretary of state, is a senior fellow at the American Civil Rights Union. He has also served as an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.