Political operatives connected with renamed ACORN affiliates are in position to help swing close, competitive races for left-leaning candidates in the 2012 elections, according to former insiders and policy analysts who are familiar with the network’s operations.
An ambitious rebranding scheme that began earlier this year has now accelerated to include affiliates in at least 12 states. The bankruptcy filing the organization slyly submitted on Election Day is properly viewed as “a head fake” and a “public relations gimmick” arranged to distract attention away from the partisan political activities of renamed affiliates, sources say.
It is worth recalling that the organization known in full as the Association of Community Activists for Reform Now had initially denied reports that it would be dropping its tarnished name in press statements released in the summer of 2009. Wade Rathke, who founded ACORN in 1970, had announced on his blog that ACORN International, one of many affiliate organizations, had officially changed its name to “Community Organizations International.” Former board members who came together under the banner of ACORN 8 in response to an embezzlement scandal saw the move as a possible opener to a larger rebranding effort.
Scott Levenson, a spokesman for organization’s national leadership, issued a statement claiming that the name has not been dropped and that Rathke is no longer connected with ACORN.
“ACORN is not changing its name,” he declared. “ACORN International, is a five-year old organization from which ACORN withdrew a year ago as part of an overall restructuring process and requested that they stop using the ACORN name, which they have now done. Wade Rathke was fired as Chief Organizer of ACORN in June 2008.”
Just after ACORN’s leadership announced that it was dissolving its network on April 1 of this year, ACORN Housing, the national affiliate at the center of an undercover videotape investigation, renamed itself Affordable Housing Centers of America. Several state affiliates have now followed suit with at least one notable exception that has attracted a paucity of press coverage.
The ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center (ACLOC), which is registered in Louisiana and also maintains a strong presence in Texas, has served as a major conduit for political operations and could play a prominent role in the 2012 elections. The affiliate was prominently mentioned in a House Oversight Committee report that probed into ACORN’s financial transactions and political activities.
“According to a document provided by former ACORN employees, the ACORN Community Labor Organizing Center (“ACLOC”) led important campaigns including the Texas for Obama Campaign,” the report said. “According to the document, ACLOC raised 1.3 million dollars from political campaigns and delivered the funds directly to ACORN offices. The document noted, `[d]oes the ACORN association board want Wade [Rathke] to be this intimately involved in coordinating campaigns this close to ACORN?’ACORN readily acknowledged its partisan behavior.”
ACLOS is categorized as an “active” organization on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s web site, but it is also listed as being “Not in Good Standing for Failure to File Annual Report.”
Jacques Berry, the press secretary for Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, said in an interview that ACLOS and other ACORN affiliates that have declined to submit their report could potentially lose their legal status.
“We are not an enforcement agency,” he explained. “We just change their designation of an organization if they miss their annual report anniversary and if they miss it three years in a row then we revoke their legal ability to do business in Louisiana. The annual report is not a financial document. It just includes basic information like name, address and if there’s any changes to any changes to pertinent information such as the makeup officers. Even if no changes are made, they need to file every year. We don’t get into financials at all that’s for the state department of revenue.”
ACLOC was founded in 2005 for purpose of building and fostering partnerships between community activists and organized labor, according to the group’s now defunct web site. In Canada, ACLOC provided “basic training” for recruits with Service Employee International Union (SEIU) who then moved into “Organizer Apprentice” positions. ACLOC has also partnered with the SEIU in Houston and Boston.
The ACORN labor group has also allied with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) to provide “community support” for daycare providers. It also joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) “to put pressure” on a grocery store chain in Arizona to allow for unionization.
There is no escaping the strong nexus that exists between ACORN and organized labor. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) (R-Calif.), the current ranking minority member on the House Oversight Committee, has reported extensively on this partnership and how it relates to partisan political activities.
“SEIU/ACORN has leveraged its size, influence, and wealth to advance its policies and agendas through a complicated web of political connections, backroom negotiations, public relations, intimidation and litigation,” a February 2010 report observed. “SEIU/ACORN has spent millions of dollars and man hours supporting union friendly federal and state candidates and legislation. These connections are then used to entice employers into neutrality agreements with offers of government subsidies and union concessions.”
All told, organized labor has contributed over $10 million to ACORN, since 2005 with the SEIU contributing about $8.7 million of this sum including over $222,000 in 2009 alone, according to Labor Department records.
ACLOC was the single largest recipient of donations from the SEIU to ACORN and its many affiliates between 2005 and 2008, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) LM-2 disclosure forms show.
The SEIU donations recorded on LM-2’s show the ACLOC Apprentice Program received $630,457 in 2008, $780,300 in 2007, $1.5 million in 2006, and $834,841 in 2005.
Going forward, the ACORN affiliates that have dropped the tarnished name may have greater flexibility and dexterity to solicit renewed financial support from long-times allies within organized labor and liberal foundations, notes Matthew Vadum, a senior editor and analyst with the Capital Research Center (CRC).
“This bankruptcy filing is really a public relations head fake,” he said. “ACORN is altering its organizational structure because the name has been sullied and damaged. But it remains a potent force.”
Moreover, he added, the congressional funding ban that went into effect last year is now lifted.
The lead ACORN organization registered in Arkansas and New Orleans has in the past received $3 million from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, $821,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation, $595,000 from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and $65,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, according to CRC.
Other foundations have contributed to ACORN’s affiliates.
Project Vote, the affiliate at center of on-going voter registration fraud allegations and investigations, has received $4,047,500 from the Rockefeller Family Fund, $1,460,801 from the Tides Foundation, and $2,643,100 from the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, financial records show.
“The professional Left didn’t throw tons of cash at ACORN each cycle because of the group’s lofty ideals,” notes Bret Jacobson, a partner with Maverick Strategies based in Washington D.C. “ACORN was hired out for bare-knuckle, ground-level politics. They picked their fights shrewdly and in many cases played a key role in pushing ballot measures for minimum wage or “living wage” hikes in swing states that were meant to impact the election for liberal politicians. In short, they didn’t spend their time preaching to the choir — they were busy proselytizing to the swing voters … or at the very least busy creating bogus voter registrations for them.”
On a web site that was removed from public view but preserved by CRC, Project Vote identifies the renamed affiliates it worked with in key states as part of its GOTV efforts. Those states are: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Despite its questionable legal status in Louisiana, ACLOC remains in position to campaign aggressively on behalf of Barack Obama in 2012 and to partner with rebranded ACORN entities.
“There is no doubt in my mind that ACORN, in whatever form it chooses to disguise itself, will be a big player in the 2012 election cycle, particularly in the areas of voter registration and voter mobilization,” Vadum said. “ACORN’s affiliate Project Vote is still apparently well funded and has an ongoing relationship with rebranded ACORN entities such as Pennsylvania Neighborhoods for Social Justice (PNSJ). With Project Vote and PNSJ it’s largely the same people. That’s the ACORN way: keep recycling people and campaigns and strategies and tactics over and over again while covering up the tracks. My understanding is that ACORN has never been strong in Virginia. ACORN prefers states with big cities because it concentrates its recruiting and activism in poor urban neighborhoods.”