The liberal activist group ACORN, calling the actions of some of its employees “indefensible,” surrendered to public pressure Wednesday and promised to better police itself in response to hidden-camera videos that show its workers advising a supposed prostitute to cheat on taxes and loan applications.
Bertha Lewis, chief executive officer of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), announced that the group would immediately stop accepting new clients, begin in-service training for all front-line staff and hire an independent auditor to “review all of the systems and processes called into question by the videos.”
It was a dramatic change in tone from Saturday when Ms. Lewis vowed, “We will not be intimidated,” and derided the group’s critics for trying “to destroy the largest community organization of black, Latino, poor and working-class people in the country.”
The new tack followed a series of setbacks for ACORN since the videos surfaced last week, as the group lost support on Capitol Hill and faced the threat of losing government funding. The Obama administration already canceled plans for ACORN to work on the 2010 census, and the Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to exclude ACORN from funding in the 2010 housing appropriations bill.
In a press release, Ms. Lewis called actions of workers caught on the sting video “indefensible” and vowed to have independent auditors review the organization’s operations.
“We have all been deeply disturbed by what we’ve seen in some of these videos,” she said. “I must say, on behalf of ACORN’s Board and our Advisory Council, that we will go to whatever lengths necessary to re-establish the public trust.”
ACORN spokesman Ian Phillips told The Washington Times that there were no inconsistencies between Ms. Lewis’ fierce defense of ACORN over the weekend. He said the organization considers the sting video to be part of a smear campaign by conservatives with “an obvious agenda.”
ACORN’s contrition did not satisfy its critics, including House Republican leaders who introduced a bill to cut off all federal funding to the group. It is estimated that 40 percent of funding for ACORN and its more than 300 affiliated organizations comes from the government.
“Given that the latest embarrassing abuses occurred after this independent Advisory Council was established, I’d say ACORN has little - if any - credibility when it comes to policing itself,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “It is time to eliminate taxpayer funding for this corrupt gang once and for all.”
ACORN has long been a target for conservatives who say it skirts tax laws and commits other crimes while helping to elect Democratic candidates and promote liberal causes. Until now, those criticism failed to hobble ACORN with its close ties to Mr. Obama and decades of support from Democrats.
The videos that reversed ACORN’s fortunes were shot by conservative activist James O’Keefe, who appeared in the footage posing as a pimp and was accompanied by a female colleague, Hannah Giles, posing as a prostitute.
The pair got counseling at ACORN offices in Baltimore, Washington, New York and San Bernardino, Calif., to obtain a home loan for property where they could conduct a prostitution business, which they said would also employ young girls from El Salvador.
At the Baltimore ACORN office, a female worker advised them to conceal their illegal activities when applying for a loan or filing taxes. “From now on, when you are talking about your business, [say] ‘performing artist/dancer,’ ” the adviser said. “You are a performance artist. So, stop saying prostitution.”
She also tells Mr. O’Keefe that he could claim the girls from El Salvador as dependents on the tax return.
ACORN officials said Mr. O’Keefe attempted similar stunts at ACORN offices in several other cities - including San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Philadelphia - where workers turned him away or called the police.