Commerce Department's Rejection of ACORN Application Belies Alternative Funding Sources

An ACORN affiliate that submitted applications totaling over $6 million in federal grant money for broadband projects has been declared ineligible as a result of guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


The ACORN Institute, a 501 (c) 3 group founded in 2000, submitted two separate applications to the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) earlier this year. One was in the amount of $3,172,042 and the other was for $2,999,903.

Funding for the grant program was included as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and was set up to “help bridge the technological divide and create jobs building Internet infrastructure,” according to the NTIA.

On its web site, the ACORN Institute (AI) describes itself as “a nationally respected provider of training and technical assistance in organizing principles and methods, a center for research and public policy development on issues of economic and social justice, and a provider of various services to low- to moderate-income individuals.” AI also includes an “experienced team” of “financial educators,” “tax preparers” and “benefits assistance specialists.”

Employees with the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now who worked with branches in Washington D.C., Baltimore Md., Brooklyn, N.Y., San Bernardino, Calif., and most recently, in Philadelphia, Pa. were caught on tape telling undercover investigators how they could manipulate the tax code and obtain illegal loans. The ACORN staffers in Baltimore told the undercover team of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles how to falsify documents and obtain benefits for “very young girls” from El Salvador.

House and Senate members who had previously resisted anti-ACORN measures were finally persuaded to cut off federal funding, after the videos came to light in September. The guidance from OMB to executive branch agencies came in response to congressional action. It reads as follows:

“No agency or department should obligate or award any Federal funds to ACORN or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or allied organizations (collectively “affiliates”) during the period of the CR [Continuing Appropriations Resolution]. To the extent your agency already has determined that funds should be obligated or awarded to ACORN or its affiliates but has not yet entered into any agreement to provide such funds to ACORN or any of its affiliates, your agency should not provide such funds, or enter into any such agreements to do so.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) cautions against putting too much faith in the congressional prohibition, which is only temporary and can be lifted anytime. It’s also important to note that only four Democrats joined with Bachmann back in April to oppose legislation that would allow organizations with a criminal history to receive federal funding.

Moreover, even if Congress moves to permanently cut-off ACORN this public funding only accounts for a small percentage of its financial base, research shows.

The lead ACORN organization registered in Arkansas and New Orleans has 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 Capital Research Center (CRC).

Other foundations have contributed to ACORN’s affiliates.

Project Vote has received $4,047,500 from the Rockefeller Family Fund and $1,460,801 from the Tides Foundation, financial records show. ACORN’s American Institute for Social Justice (AISJ) has received almost $30 million in foundation grants, since 2000, according to the CRC.

AISJ has received $5,125,000 from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, $4,130,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust and $265,000 from the Needmor Fund.

The Woods Fund of Chicago, where President Barack Obama and former Weather Underground leader William Ayers sat as board members, has donated about $190,000 to the ACORN network, according to CRC. Obama and Ayers served on the Woods Fund board from 1999 to 2001, when two of the ACORN grants were made.

George Soros’s Open Society donated $25,000 to ACORN, while his Democracy Alliance steered a grant of “unknown size” to the community group back in 2006, CRC records show.

The rebuke from The Commerce Department and other setbacks on Capitol Hill belie these alternative funding sources. Even without taxpayer dollars, Matthew Vadum, a senior editor and analyst with CRC, expects ACORN to remain flush with cash thanks to left-leaning foundations and individual donors.

“So much of ACORN’s finances are hidden from public view,” he said. “We really don’t know how much was received from corporate shakedown campaigns and there are also the high-dollar donors such as Herb and Marion Sandler in addition to all of the liberal foundations.”

It is evident from the recent gubernatorial election in New Jersey that ACORN has enough funding to remain a force in the political arena. The organization has a strong presence in the state with offices in Trenton, Jersey City, Paterson and Newark and was very active in working to sway the election.

Gov-elect Chris Christie won by a large enough margin over Democratic incumbent Governor Jon Corzine to blunt any attempt to swing the election by way of absentee ballot fraud. Even so, ACORN’s activities in New Jersey suggest that it could remain a potent force, at least through the 2010 races.

“While a few politicians on Capitol Hill may be embarrassed into cutting off taxpayer funding, there’s no reason to think ultra-wealthy ultra-liberal foundations will feel any similar shame,” Bret Jacobson, president and founder of Maverick Strategies observed. “Public money is just a slice of ACORN’s immense income stream. They still have enough wealthy allies on the far left to keep them in the headlines for the next couple elections.”

Organized labor also figures prominently into this equation.

Financial disclosure forms show that unions have contributed almost $10 million to ACORN, since 2005. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been the single largest benefactor here contributing $7 million. SEIU is also responsible for at least partially funding ACORN’s corporate shakedown efforts and for directing partisan activities, former and current ACORN insiders have said.

Even with the release of new videos highlighting potential felonies and the filing of voter registration fraud charges in multiple states, ACORN remains politically active and potentially consequential where elections are close.

This is the lesson of 2009 looking ahead to the mid-term congressional elections next year.


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