Inside Today's Bulletin
From Little ACORNs Grow Big Scandals
By Michael P. Tremoglie, The Bulletin
A community organization, with longstanding ties to Barack Obama, has, according to numerous reports, repeatedly run afoul of voter registration laws both locally and nationally.
Mr. Obama worked for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now's Project Vote voter-registration campaign in 1992 after graduating from Harvard Law School. He directed a successful voter-registration campaign, credited with electing Carol Moseley-Braun to the U.S. Senate. Primarily targeting African-Americans, Mr. Obama's efforts added an estimated 125,000 voters to the rolls.
He also participated on a team of attorneys working on behalf of ACORN. They filed a 1995 lawsuit, which required the state of Illinois to implement the federal "motor-voter" bill. He still maintains a relationship with the organization. Mr. Obama's campaign had to file amended federal election reports in August. They paid more than $800,000 to Citizens Services Inc. (CSI), an ACORN subsidiary, to turn out for the campaign during the primaries. However, the campaign listed CSI's activities as polling, advance work and staging major events.
ACORN has a checkered past - and present. It is a grassroots political organization founded by Wade Rathke and George Wiley, both of whom were community organizers for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO).
That checkered past also has turned up locally.
Philadelphia election officials recently accused ACORN, of filing multiple fraudulent voter registrations during the 2008 Pennsylvania primary. The case has been referred to the U.S. Attorney's office, according to Philadelphia Deputy Election Commissioner Fred Voight.
Delaware County election officials have made similar allegations against the group, and criminal indictments are pending.
This past July 24, Dauphin County detectives offered a $2,000 reward for information about the whereabouts of Luis R. Torres-Serrano, an ACORN worker, who was accused of submitting more than 100 fraudulent voter registrations.
ACORN's legal problems with their voter registration efforts stretch beyond state boundaries.
The Milwaukee district attorney is investigating 39 ACORN employees for criminal violations, including offering gifts to sign up voters and falsifying driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers or other information on voter registration cards.
Five ACORN employees were convicted and imprisoned in Washington state, in 2007, for what was described by Washington's Secretary of State Sam Reed, as, "was the worst case of election fraud in our state's history. It was an outrage."
"(ACORN) Workers ... said they were under pressure from the community-organizing group that hired them to sign up more voters," The Seattle Times reported . "Workers told investigators they went to the Seattle public library and filled out the voter registration forms, by using contrived names, addresses and Social Security numbers and in some cases plucked names from the phone book."
Numerous ACORN-related indictments and, or convictions, have been seeded across the country in recent years.
Four part-time ACORN employees were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., for voter registration fraud in November 2006. Two Colorado ACORN workers were sentenced to community service, in January 2005, for submitting false voter registrations.
During the 2004 election, ACORN, and its sister group Project Vote, ran a nationwide voter mobilization drive that was rife with allegations of voter fraud. A worker for one ACORN affiliate in Ohio was allegedly given crack cocaine in exchange for fraudulent registrations that included underage voters, dead voters and voters named Mary Poppins, Dick Tracy and Jive Turkey. Four Ohio ACORN employees were indicted by a federal grand jury for submitting false voter registration forms.
Messrs. Rathke and Wiley formed ACORN in the early 1970s, expanding their involvement beyond welfare recipients to all issues touching low-income and working-class people. According to Discoverthenetworks.org, they enlisted civil rights workers and trained them in a program at Syracuse University patterned after the Saul Alinsky school of activist tactics in Chicago.
Today, ACORN is the largest community organization of low- and moderate-income people in America, with over 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in 110 cities across the country.
ACORN founded the Working Families Party in New York in 1998. They endorsed Hillary Clinton for her Senate campaign that year. Canvassers from ACORN and its sister groups launched a statewide voter-mobilization drive that proved influential in Mrs. Clinton's victory.
Yet, opponents say ACORN has violated its own mission not to mention numerous laws meant to protect poor and working class citizens and voters.
The New York Times reported in July 2008 that a whistleblower forced the organization to publicly disclose an embezzlement of almost $1 million in 1999 and 2000, involving Dale Rathke, the brother of the organization's founder Wade Rathke.
Some ACORN executives kept the information from board members and did not tell law enforcement. Meanwhile, Dale Rathke remained on the payroll until June 2008, when disclosure of his theft 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 ACORN President Maude Hurd. "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 Consumers Rights League spokesman Jim Terry said, "ACORN has a long and sordid history of employing convoluted Enron-style accounting to illegally use taxpayer funds for their own political gain. Now it looks like ACORN is using the same type of convoluted accounting scheme for Obama's political gain."
ACORN did not respond to requests for a statement. However, they did refer to a statement by Ms. Hurd, in a Sept. 12 press release, saying, "ACORN has NEVER been indicted for voter fraud, violating elections laws or encouraging ineligible citizens to vote."
Michael P. Tremoglie can be reached at [email protected]