Justice Department Inspector General Opens Investigation of ACORN

Rep. Lamar SmithThe IRS isn’t the only federal agency alarmed over the potentially criminal activities of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. At the start of this week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its Office of Inspector General was initiating a probe of the radical New Orleans-based nonprofit nationwide network. The move was in response to a request by several members of Congress, led by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., for aggressive oversight of the hard Left organization, which over the years has been a key cog in the Democratic Party and especially in the rise of the political career of Barack Obama. “It is clear that ACORN has fostered a culture of corruption,” said Rep. Smith, Ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “With investigations of ACORN now occurring in 20 states, it is time for the FBI to open up a full-scale investigation into possible criminal conduct by ACORN.” 

The Justice Department appears willing to follow the evidence where it leads. DOJ Inspector General Glenn A. Fine stated that he and his staff will investigate how much funding ACORN has received from the department and whether the money was used for its stated purposes. In his letter to Smith, he stated: “Your letter asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG) to investigate whether ACORN applied for or received any DOJ grant funds, and if so, did DOJ conduct any audits or reviews of ACORN’s use of such funds. I am writing to inform you that the OIG plans to open a review into this matter.” Perhaps chastened by the bad publicity coming their way lately, ACORN appears willing to cooperate. “We welcome the Justice Department inquiry to help bring the truth to light and to allow us to focus on the important issues facing low- and moderate-income Americans,” said group spokesman Scott Levenson. “We look forward to working with [the Justice Department] on this inquiry.”

Heads of other OIGs are likely to be focused similarly in the near future. On Monday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called upon seven inspectors general to conduct audits of how much money their departments have given to ACORN and for what purposes. The agencies were: the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Small Business Administration; the Federal Election Commission; the Treasury Department; the Elections Assistance Commission; the Department of Labor; and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Issa, who on July 20 released a lengthy report, “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?,” also urged House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., to hold hearings on ACORN.

Spurred by the explosive publicity surrounding a hidden-camera video sting of ACORN offices in Baltimore and elsewhere, Congress might not need much encouragement at this point. The House recently voted 345-75, an amendment to a college lending bill that would ban ACORN from receiving federal funds. Likewise, the Senate approved by an 83-7 margin an amendment sponsored by Mike Johanns, R-Neb., to cut off funds to the organization as part of the fiscal 2010 housing and transportation appropriations bill. Margins this wide tell us that even Democrats are jumping ship on behalf of an organization whose members have been implicated in, and on occasion pleaded guilty to, voter registration fraud, embezzlement, assault and other offenses.

ACORN believes such actions amount to a partisan assault from the Right upon the interests of the poor. “We’re disappointed that the Senate took the rare and politically convenient step of supporting eliminating federal funding for a single organization, one that has been the target of an historical political assault stemming variously from the Bush White House, Fox News, and other conservative quarters,” said ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. “Fortunately, ACORN derives most of its income from its members and other supporters, so the decision will have little impact on overall operations.” Lamar Smith, Darrell Issa and other legislators are doing their best to make sure taxpayers aren’t included as a source.