ACORN Question for Local Media: What in the World Are These People Really Doing?

acorn_rottenIn a great NewsBusters post early this morning, Rusty Weiss wondered how much local media coverage there has been of ACORN's suspension of services, and focused on potential vote fraud in Albany and Troy, New York.

Here's a question local reporters looking for an angle should be asking, even in the somewhat unlikely event they can't find anything corrupt or criminal at the ACORN office in their town: How effective is the organization's outreach?

Based on what little I've learned, a more legitimate question might be, "Is ACORN's so-called outreach really just a facade to conceal other not well-known activities it really considers more important"?

The issue first occurred to me when I read a September 18 report by WCPO in Cincinnati (WCPO apparently stands for "We Constantly Promote Obama") about the office's decision to suspend services (bolds are mine):

Every month more than two dozen people walk into ACORN's Cincinnati office on Central Avenue for help with avoiding foreclosure and finding financial aid programs.

ACORN, or The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is the nation's largest community activist group. But starting this Friday, it's suspending its social services and outreach.

The agency is conducting damage control after undercover video hit the airwaves. In it, ACORN workers appear willing to help a pimp and prostitute buy a home to run as a brothel. The two were actually conservative activists.

ACORN says the tapes were doctored and an internal investigation is underway. The employees in the tapes have been fired.

The leader of Ohio ACORN, Amy Teitelman, calls the videos "a racist and classist campaign against us."

Let's get past the tired boilerplate leftist name-calling for a moment and look at the numbers.

ACORN Cincinnati, when operating, was seeing barely more than one new client each business day. Barely one.

A September 18 Cincinnati Enquirer story by Quan Truong takes the number down further, even though the services described are wider in scope (bold is mine):

People seeking services from ACORN will have little luck getting any as the agency's offices statewide try to ride out nationwide scandal over advice given to some clients and caught on hidden cameras.

Locally, that means about 20 clients a month will be turned away, said Amy Teitelman, the local and state director of ACORN.

The decision to suspend services, which includes foreclosure prevention and tax preparation, came after conservative activists revealed hidden camera footage of ACORN employees in other states offering advice about setting up prostitution businesses.

We've now gone from barely one to only one new client each business day, and for all services.

That's embarrassing. What in the world are these people doing all day?

The stories just excerpted are, as far as I have been able to determine based on this Cincinnati.com search, the only two locally-originated Greater Cincinnati stories generated in the wake of James O'Keefe's and Hannah Giles's undercover video work in various U.S. cities (five thus far). I'd say I just gave our locals a story idea, if they would care to run with it.

A similar pattern holds when you look at the numbers nationally. For example, here's this excerpt from a September 15 report by Fox News, which says it obtained the numbers it reported from ACORN's national web site (bold is mine):

Six years later, in 1986, the organization created the ACORN Housing Corporation to "build and preserve housing assets." Since its inception, according to its Web site, the corporation has assisted more than 45,000 families to become first-time homeowners and has rehabbed more than 850 vacant or abandoned housing units.

What?

Even if those totals were for only 5 years instead of 23, that would be 1.57 families per office per week (45,000 divided by 110 cities divided by 5 years divided by 52). It seems pretty obvious that the real number is a lot lower than 1.57. Again assuming only 5 years instead of 23, the rehabs are less than 1.6 per city per full year (850 divided by 110 divided by 5). Habitat for Humanity (this is a huge understatement) runs circles around that.

Again, what in the world are these people doing all day?

Finally, there's this September 23 AP story about the Internal Revenue Service severing its ties with ACORN:

The Internal Revenue Service said it would no longer include ACORN in its volunteer tax assistance program. The program offered free tax advice to about 3 million low- and moderate-income tax filers this spring. ACORN provided help on about 25,000 returns, the IRS said.

25,000 returns nationwide? That's less than 1% of the 3 million cited, is just over 200 per year in each of ACORN's 110 cities, and likely includes a lot of repeat-year returns that are pretty easy to prepare. The IRS could have fired ACORN solely on the basis that they weren't worth management's time and attention.

By contrast, here's just one example of a United Way taxpayer assistance outreach effort out of Washington state (bold is mine):

In 2009, 530 volunteers dedicated 16,000 hours to United Way of King County's Free Tax Prep Campaign. Volunteers prepared 13,631 tax returns, helped return $17.3 million in federal refunds back to the community, including $5.2 million in Earned Income Tax Credits, and saved customers an estimated $1 million in tax preparation fees.

The King County group, in just one metro area, did over half as many returns as ACORN did in the entire country, and provided their services for free.

I repeat, what in the world are the people in these ACORN offices really doing?

Local reporters ought to be all over this, assuming they're interested in digging for the truth instead of parroting ACORN's press releases and talking points. National reporters should be ashamed that they have ignored the obvious indications that ACORN's offices really accomplish very little of value on behalf of the poor people they allegedly serve.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.