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The Truth About ACORN

By Betsy Newmark

ACORN is a nonprofit group whose goal is to register new voters and other activism efforts to help low income groups. Ostensibly. Mostly it is a leftist organization that wishes to put more liberal politicians in office. It has been involved in several voter registration scandals for its loose system that actually encourages phony registration because they pay low income people per person registered which provides those workers to submit phony names. Most recently it was involved in the biggest case ever of voter registration fraud in Washington state. While ACORN and the Washington prosecutors deny that ACORN officials were directly involved, their system of pay per registration only encourages such fraud. John Fund reported on this last year.

But the most interesting news came out of Seattle, where on Thursday local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.

The list of "voters" registered in Washington state included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, New York Times columnists Frank Rich and Tom Friedman, actress Katie Holmes and nonexistent people with nonsensical names such as Stormi Bays and Fruto Boy. The addresses used for the fake names were local homeless shelters. Given that the state doesn't require the showing of any identification before voting, it is entirely possible people could have illegally voted using those names.

Local officials refused to accept the registrations because they had been delivered after last year's Oct. 7 registration deadline. Initially, Acorn officials demanded the registrations be accepted and threatened to sue King County (Seattle) officials if they were tossed out. But just after four Acorn registration workers were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., on similar charges of fraud, the group reversed its position and said the registrations should be rejected. But by then, local election workers had had a reason to carefully scrutinize the forms and uncovered the fraud. Of the 1,805 names submitted by Acorn, only nine have been confirmed as valid, and another 34 are still being investigated. The rest--over 97%--were fake.

All this fraud was hard work.

To boost their output, the defendants allegedly went to the downtown Seattle Public Library, where they filled out voter-registration forms using names they made up or found in phone books, newspapers and baby-naming books.

One defendant "said it was hard work making up all those cards," and another "said he would often sit at home, smoke marijuana and fill out cards," according to a probable-cause statement written by King County sheriff's Detective Christopher Johnson.

Yup, fraud can be tough work.

Fraud seems to be the byword at ACORN. The New York Times recently reported on how the brother of ACORN's founder embezzled nearly a million dollars from the organization. While any organization can mistakenly hire a bad seed who looks at the organization as a source of illegal funds, what is disturbing about ACORN is the way they handled it. They knew about the corruption, but covered it up.

Acorn chose to treat the embezzlement of nearly $1 million eight years ago as an internal matter and did not even notify its board. After Points of Light noticed financial irregularities in early June, it took less than a month for management to alert federal prosecutors, although group officials say they have no clear idea yet what the financial impact may be.

A whistle-blower forced Acorn to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the organization's founder, Wade Rathke.

The brother, Dale Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000, Acorn officials said, but a small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group's board members and not to alert law enforcement.

Dale Rathke remained on Acorn's payroll until a month ago, when disclosure of his theft by foundations and other donors forced the organization to dismiss him.

"We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house," said Maude Hurd, president of Acorn. "It was a judgment call at the time, and looking back, people can agree or disagree with it, but we did what we thought was right."

The amount Dale Rathke embezzled, $948,607.50, was carried as a loan on the books of Citizens Consulting Inc., which provides bookkeeping, accounting and other financial management services to Acorn and many of its affiliated entities.

Wade Rathke said the organization had signed a restitution agreement with his brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.

Wade Rathke stepped down as Acorn's chief organizer on June 2, the same day his brother left, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.

He said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a "weapon" into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.

Can you imagine if a conservative group hushed up such an embezzlement and didn't inform donors until the whole thing came out and still kept the embezzler, the brother, and those who knew about it on the payroll or the board?

The New York Post reminds us of why conservatives have criticized ACORN, most of which information the New York Times didn't seem fit to include to explain why conservatives have long been critical of ACORN.

ACORN has been implicated in similar schemes in 14 other states - including Ohio, where a worker traded crack cocaine for fraudulent registrations.

Back in the '80s and '90s, ACORN's tactics included trespassing, illegal seizure of private property, physical harassment, intimidation and outright extortion.

For example, in 1985, ACORN illegally seized 25 abandoned buildings owned by New York City and installed squatters as residents. A weak-kneed City Hall eventually gave the group title to the buildings - proving that crime can pay.

Amazingly, a large chunk of ACORN's budget is provided by taxpayers.

Much of the rest comes from gullible foundations and groups like the United Federation of Teachers - which has partnered up with ACORN in efforts to kill Mayor Bloomberg's school reform.

Michelle Malkin recently reported on how the federal government is funding this organization. Barack Obama worked closely with ACORN when he was in Chicago and he sent money their way when he served on the board of the Woods Foundation and ACORN is, of course, supporting his candidacy. It's all very cozy. But it's about time for the federal government and ACORN's donors to rethink their support of this organization.

Betsy blogs daily at Betsy's Page