Who told House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, to lay off the radical activist group ACORN?
The 23-term congressman, who has been enamored of the aggressively partisan group for years, gave a truly odd explanation last week when he reaffirmed a May 4 statement that a probe of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) "appears unwarranted at this time."
"The powers that be decided against it," he said Wednesday, refusing to elaborate. His spokesman Jonathan Godfrey later said Mr. Conyers was referring to himself as "the powers that be." Unless you believe that "the powers that be" is a novel variation of the editorial "we," it's clear Mr. Conyers wasn't referring to himself and that somebody "got" to him.
Judiciary Committee member Steve King, Iowa Republican, doesn't believe Mr. Godfrey. "Who are the powers that be?" he asked Friday. "Speaker Pelosi or President Obama, who has been both an employee and employer of ACORN?"
We may have been naive to believe that Mr. Conyers, whose famously obstreperous wife Monica, a Detroit City Council member, pleaded guilty Friday to felony bribery charges, really wanted to examine ACORN's underbelly. After all, Mr. Conyers is a longtime ACORN ally who until recently fought demands to investigate the group.
As recently as October the far-left lawmaker called the group that helps bring out the Democratic vote in droves "a long-standing and well-regarded organization that fights for the poor and working class." ACORN gave him a 100 percent rating in its 2006 legislative scorecard. Last June, he received enthusiastic applause as he addressed the group's national convention and denounced U.S. corporations as "capitalist predators."
Despite Mr. Conyers' affinity for ACORN, there is so much to investigate.
ACORN and its Byzantine taxpayer-subsidized network of affiliate groups owe millions of dollars in back taxes, played a starring role in the subprime mortgage mess, and may be using taxpayer funds related to housing on partisan political activities.
Then there is ACORN's eight-year-long cover-up of the million-dollar embezzlement by founder Wade Rathke's brother. When ACORN board members Marcel Reid and Karen Inman demanded to see the financial documents last year, they were expelled from the group. Ms. Reid and Ms. Inman, a lawyer, have since created the ACORN 8, a group that aims to reform ACORN.
Speaking on behalf of the ACORN 8, Ms. Reid said Friday, "We are saddened and disappointed by the congressman's recent decision to forego a congressional investigation of ACORN."
Mr. Conyers strained credibility in his incredibly ill-timed May 4 statement about the Saul Alinsky-inspired election-fraud factory, which habitually claims Republicans are out to persecute it.
Earlier the same day, his fellow Democrats in Nevada, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, unveiled 39 felony counts related to voter registrations against ACORN and two former senior ACORN executives.
Later the same week Allegheny County, Pa., District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., also a Democrat, charged seven ex-ACORN canvassers with voter registration fraud. ACORN also is under investigation by authorities in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, after a man who had been registered multiple times by ACORN was indicted this month by a grand jury for fraudulent voting. The prosecutor in Ohio, Bill Mason, is also a Democrat. This development is particularly significant because ACORN, of course, has long claimed that the illegal casting of ballots nowadays is a myth.
The chairman's newly reaffirmed position is a 180-degree turn from March 19, when he heard testimony from Republican lawyer Heather S. Heidelbaugh about ACORN's reported serial violations of tax, campaign finance and other laws. Mr. Conyers also heard testimony on the group's protest-for-hire services, its "muscle for the money" program and how it extracts donations from the targets of demonstrations by shaking those targets down Mafia-style.
The attorney said President Obama's campaign last year sent ACORN its "maxed-out donor list" and asked the avowedly nonpartisan group's employees "to reach out to the maxed-out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN."
At the time, Mr. Conyers said the allegations were "a pretty serious matter." Two weeks later, he confirmed that he "probably" would order a probe. "That's our jurisdiction, the Justice Department. That's what we handle - voter fraud. Unless that's been taken out of my jurisdiction and I didn't know it."
No one knows for sure what exactly Mr. Conyers has been thinking or who has been telling him to think it.
Matthew Vadum is a senior editor at Capital Research Center, a District think tank that studies the politics of philanthropy.