- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The liberal activist group ACORN rakes in millions of dollars in federal taxpayer dollars a year - at least $53 million since 1994 for its housing programs alone - but that largess is in jeopardy after a hidden-camera video showed one of its workers advising a supposed prostitute how to cheat on taxes and mortgage applications.

House Republicans on Tuesday introduced the Defund ACORN Act that would sever all ties between the government and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a day after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit funding the group in the 2010 housing appropriations bill.

House Republican leaders also sent a letter Tuesday to the Internal Revenue Service asking the agency to end its partnership with ACORN for providing free tax preparation services to low- and middle-income Americans.

“It is alarming to think that one the IRS’ largest and rapidly growing partners in a tax-preparation program allegedly employs individuals who encourage tax fraud,” said the letter signed by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. David Camp of Michigan, ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

ACORN apparently is not compensated for its work with the IRS.

Despite most Senate Democrats turning on ACORN in the vote Monday, House Democratic leaders have remained mum about the troubles confronting their longtime ally and likely will resist bringing the Defund ACORN Act to the floor.

The vote would put many Democrats in a perilous position.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, who is considered vulnerable in the 2010 elections, found that out when she voted against the bill Monday. The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly criticized her for breaking with her fellow New Yorker, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership team, who supported the measure.

It is difficult to determine exactly how much federal funding ACORN collects because the organization and its more than 300 affiliated groups, which often use the same accounting firm and the same address in New Orleans, can vie for myriad federal grants.

For instance, ACORN and its affiliates are eligible for millions of dollars in economic stimulus funds.

“It’s not very transparent. That’s the problem,” said Cleta Mitchell, national co-chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has called for a Justice Department investigation of ACORN and its funding.

The ACORN Housing Corp. last year took in about $27.8 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That same year, ACORN Institute got more than $486,000 from the same agency, according to data compiled by Mr. Boehner’s office.

The data showed ACORN got more than $53.6 million from HUD since 1994. That does not include money from other agencies or money to affiliated groups, such as Citizen Services Inc., which beyond taxpayer money took in more than $800,000 performing get-out-the-vote work for President Obama’s 2008 campaign for the White House.

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 surfaced last week, however, proved a turning point.

The Obama administration canceled plans for ACORN to help with the 2010 census and the Senate voted 83-7 to refuse the group housing grants in upcoming appropriation bills for fiscal 2010.

ACORN officials did not return several calls inquiring what effect losing federal funding would have on the organization.

The group touts itself as the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, campaigning since 1970 on issues such as homeownership, living wages and better public schools.

Still, it came under fire during the presidential campaign after investigations of voter fraud in several battleground states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada.

The group and its affiliates are currently the target of at least 14 lawsuits related to voter fraud in the 2008 election and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act complaint filed by former ACORN members.

ACORN leaders have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Last week, authorities in Florida’s Miami-Dade County accused 11 ACORN workers of falsifying hundreds of voter-registration cards prior to the 2008 presidential election, though ACORN officials took credit for alerting authorities to the potential illegal activity by its hired canvassers.

The video that put ACORN’s federal funding at risk was shot by conservative activist James O’Keefe, who appeared in the footage posing as a pimp and was accompanied by a female colleague posing as a prostitute.

The pair sought counseling at ACORN offices in Baltimore and Washington to obtain a home loan for property where they could conduct their prostitution business.

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 as dependents on the tax return some of the teenage girls from El Salvador that he said he planned to employ as prostitutes in the house.

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.

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