- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Investigation sought

A powerful group of Republican lawyers is demanding that government officials open an investigation into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) to determine whether the organization has used any government funds for illegal purposes.

And the lawyers are making those demands directly to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties. Mr. Nadler has said he would consider holding a hearing “if I ever hear any credible allegations” about the group.

Now that a pair of activist filmmakers have exposed ACORN workers giving advice on how to obtain federal funds to run a brothel, the Republican National Lawyers Association says the evidence is piled high enough to get a hearing. RNLA put a Web video out Tuesday that replayed Mr. Nadler’s remarks.

“Prostitution. Sex trafficking. Fraud. Credible enough, Mr. Chairman?” the ad says.

The House recently voted to prohibit any more tax dollars going to ACORN, but Mr. Nadler was among the few who would not support the measure. He argued doing so would be “blatantly unconstitutional.”

Mr. Nadler said in a statement on the House floor that the vote to defund ACORN “was done in the spirit of the moment and nobody had the opportunity to point out that this is a flat violation of the Constitution, constituting a bill of attainder. The Constitution says that Congress shall never pass a bill of attainder. Bills of attainder, no matter what their form, apply either to a named individual or to easily ascertainable members of a group, to inflict punishment. That’s exactly what this amendment does.”

“It may be that ACORN is guilty of various infractions, and, if so, it ought to be vetted, or maybe sanctioned, by the appropriate administrative agency or by the judiciary,” he said. “Congress must not be in the business of punishing individual organizations or people without trial.”

Cleta Mitchell, co-chairman of the RNLA, said Mr. Nadler isn’t taking the charges against ACORN seriously and he needs to hold a hearing to track down how its federal dollars have been spent. Republican critics of ACORN estimate the group has gotten close to $54 million since 1994.

“When you get federal money you get it for a special purpose and you are supposed to spend it for that purpose and certify at the end of each fiscal year it was spent for that purpose,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I don’t see how they could have possibly made those representations truthfully to the federal government.”

ACORN officials have said they would hold their own investigation to determine where their group went wrong, to be conducted by their advisory council, which includes Center for American Progress President John Podesta and Clinton administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros.

Mrs. Mitchell said they could not be relied on to get ACORN’s accounting in order. “That board is made up of compromised, liberal-Democratic partisans who have vested political interests in trying to save ACORN,” she said.

Mr. Nadler’s press office did return calls for comment about the RLNA ad.

The investigator

ACORN’s advisory council recently named former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to lead its internal investigation, a man who once led an organization that has worked with and supported ACORN.

Mr. Harshbarger is the former president of Common Cause, an affiliation Capital Research Center Senior Editor Matthew Vadum says should disqualify the lawyer from conducting the investigation.

“If they wanted someone to have any credibility they might invite someone who isn’t a lifelong liberal activist,” Mr. Vadum said.

Mr. Vadum, who has written many negative items about ACORN’s management and use of taxpayer money, said: “This is what ACORN does whenever it gets in trouble,” recalling a previous investigation ACORN held after its founder Wade Rathke covered up the nearly $1 million his brother embezzled from the group.

“Whenever ACORN gets into trouble, it uses these techniques of misdirection,” he said.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at [email protected]

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