Joe Conason's Revisionist History of ACORN

In a column today, Salon’s Joe Conason drastically downplays the history of illegality that characterizes the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. In his revisionist history of the organization, Conason tries to show that ACORN may commit voter registration fraud, intimidate its employees to prevent them from unionizing, and willingly assist in the trafficking of underage sex slaves, but by and large it is a force for good.

For many years the combined forces of the far right and the Republican Party have sought to ruin ACORN, the largest organization of poor and working families in America.

Ah yes, ACORN is supposedly battling for the rights of the working class. But in 1995, the organization sued the State of California for an exemption to the high minimum wage laws in that state on the grounds that higher wages would mean they would have to employ fewer people. Incidentally, this is the exact same argument that every opponent of minimum wage laws employs, and ACORN has always battled for a higher minimum wage.

The National labor Relations Board in 2003 found ACORN guilty of violating national labor laws “by interrogating employees about their union activities, by informing employees that other employees have been discharged because of the Union, by threatening employees that selecting the Union to represent them will be futile, and by threatening employees with discharge.” ACORN is far from an advocate for workers’ rights.

Owing to the idiocy of a few ACORN employees, notoriously caught in a videotape "sting" sponsored by a conservative Web site and publicized by Fox News, that campaign has scored significant victories on Capitol Hill and in the media…

“Like so many conservative attacks, the crusade against ACORN has been highly exaggerated and even falsified to create a demonic image that bears little resemblance to the real organization. Working in the nation's poorest places, and hiring the people who live there, ACORN is not immune to the pathologies that can afflict institutions in those communities…

Would those pathologies include giving out narcotics to those who willingly falsify voter registration forms? In 2004, according to the Wall Street Journal, ACORN paid a man in crack cocaine for doing exactly that. He reportedly filled out registration for dead and underage voters, and for voters “Mary Poppins,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Jive Turkey.”

And yet, Conason continues,
ACORN's troubles should be considered in the context of a history of honorable service to the dispossessed and impoverished…

Among the most popular canards on the right, repeated constantly by conservative pundits and politicians, is that ACORN has been found guilty of engaging in deliberate voter fraud, using federal funds. In reality, ACORN has registered close to 2 million low-income citizens across the country over the past five years -- a laudable record with a very low incidence of fraud of any kind…


In 2007, seven ACORN workers were charged with the most egregious case of voter registration fraud in Washington State’s history. According to the Seattle Times, those employees knowingly filed almost 2,000 fraudulent voter registrations, either making up names, or using names from local phone books, newspapers, and baby name books.

According to a Detective in Washington’s King’s County, one of the defendants in the case said “he would often sit at home, smoke marijuana and fill out cards.” All defendants said they were “under pressure from [ACORN] to sign up more voters.” One said that he had “encouraged canvassers he supervised to forge registration forms to meet ACORN's quota of 18 to 20 registrations per canvasser per day.”

The scale of ACORN’s voter registration fraud, though immense, is not so much the issue, as is the fact that a recipient of federal money is willing to knowingly break the law in efforts to register voters. Giles and O’Keefe’s sting operation is only another example of ACORN’s disregard for the law. The organization has a long and well-publicized history of lawlessness and fraud.

Both the House and the Senate voted this week to deny ACORN any federal funds, but Conason dismisses the congressional reaction, saying,


In the atmosphere of frenzy created by the BigGovernment videos ... it is hardly shocking that both Democrats and Republicans would put as much distance as possible between themselves and the sleazy outfit depicted on-screen.