ACORN Shuts Down

ACORN-closing-downThe controversial grassroots organization that launched Barack Obama’s political career is going out of business.

The community organizing group Acorn announced Monday that it would close all its remaining state affiliates and field offices by April 1.

The organization is “developing a plan to resolve all outstanding debts, obligations and other issues,” said a statement released by the group.

Acorn has been battered by criticism from the right and has lost federal money and private donations since a video sting was publicized last fall. Acorn employees were shown in the videos advising two young conservative activists — posing as a pimp and a prostitute — how to conceal their criminal activities.

In reaction to the videos, the Census Bureau ended its partnership with the organization for this year’s census, the Internal Revenue Service dropped the group from its Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program, and Congress voted to cut off all grants to the organization.

This, interestingly, despite the Brooklyn DA exonerating ACORN of criminal charges in the “pimp” matter.

“For Acorn as a national organization, our vindication on the facts doesn’t necessarily pay the bills,” Bertha Lewis, the chief executive of Acorn, said in a statement.

While the videos gave the impression that one of the two activists, James E. O’Keefe III, was dressed as a pimp when he entered the offices, later inspection seemed to indicate that he had manipulated that part of the footage and showed no evidence that he wore the costume when talking to Acorn workers.

The transcript of several stings, however, indicate that Mr. O’Keefe clearly presented himself as a pimp and that Acorn workers in some offices told him how to hide prostitution activities from the authorities.

While that particular scandal was partly manufactured, the organization has been under fire for years.  And it finally caught up to them.

“It’s really declining revenue in the face of a series of attacks from partisan operatives and right-wing activist that have taken away our ability to raise the resources we need,” ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said.

Several of its largest affiliates, including ACORN New York and ACORN California, broke away this year and changed their names in a bid to ditch the tarnished image of their parent organization and restore revenue that ran dry in the wake of the video scandal. They will continue to operate under their new names and aren’t affected by ACORN’s decision to shut down.

Over time, activist organizations — and perhaps especially decentralized ones — lose sight of their original purpose and adopt a “means justify the ends” mentality.  And, frankly, relying on poorly trained, poorly- or uncompensated employees only adds to the troubles.   And, no, it’s not just inner city groups; young Republican activists have gotten in trouble for their voter registration drives, too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Even before Acorn blew up I thought that public-private partnerships were confusing and dangerous. Making a muddle of what is volunteer and what is government run is a very bad idea.

    The sad thing now is that people want to focus on this case while preserving the system.

    Let’s unwind this stuff and get back to clear distinctions between for-profit, non-profit, and governmental.

  2. Eric Florack says:

    ACORN had the distinct disadvantage of having been caught. Since they could no longer serve the purpose for which they were formed… to support the leftist pols, without their corruption being re-revealed… (And linked to said leftist pols)…. they folded.

  3. steve says:

    Time to go back to going after the ACLU. Got to have a bogeyman.

    Steve

  4. john personna says:

    Leftist pols? Reminder:

    White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

    OFBCI was established by President George W. Bush through executive order[2] on January 29, 2001, representing one of the key domestic policies of Bush’s campaign promise of “compassionate conservatism.” The initiative sought to strengthen faith-based and community organizations and expand their capacity to provide federally-funded social services, with the idea having been that these groups were well-situated to meet the needs of local individuals. As Texas governor, Bush had used the “Charitable Choice” provisions of the 1996 welfare reform (which allowed “faith-based” entities to compete for government contracts to deliver social services) to support the work of faith-based groups in Texas.

    This was a key error in Bush’s conservatism, that government should write checks to community organizations. It fails on fiscal grounds (no money to pay for it) and ain’t exactly a path to small government.

  5. Herb says:

    You mean we won’t have Acorn to kick around anymore? Oh well.

  6. James Joyner says:

    This was a key error in Bush’s conservatism, that government should write checks to community organizations. It fails on fiscal grounds (no money to pay for it) and ain’t exactly a path to small government.

    It makes sense at the state level but I’m dubious of it on the federal level. I suppose that if we’re going to fund, say, homeless shelters, at the federal level it makes sense to pay the people who are already doing it well to scale it up. But there are administrative control issues with it.

    Once you get beyond pure charity or pure educational research into the political — voter registration being a classic case-in-point — then you’re just asking for trouble.

  7. kth says:

    From the standpoint of their goals of representing the least fortunate, I’m not sure what a national brand name like ACORN brought to the table except a lightning rod for the opposition. But the time and money of people dedicated to improving the lives of people living in the margins won’t go away (indeed, will probably increase), and it may be for the best that a thousand small organizations do the work instead of one big one (or more precisely, one brand on those thousand local orgs).

  8. john personna says:

    It makes sense at the state level but I’m dubious of it on the federal level. I suppose that if we’re going to fund, say, homeless shelters, at the federal level it makes sense to pay the people who are already doing it well to scale it up. But there are administrative control issues with it.

    If the federal government does its job to provide the safety net (with aid to individuals) then perhaps the problem of people who fall through then net could be handled by local charities. No need to mix.

    One example of the Bush era was a million dollars to a church to do AIDS education. A million bucks is a lot of money on a church budget … to go be healthcare. What a bad mix.

    Of course, if the federal government is doing a bad job with the safety net, sending money to the local charities will probably only confuse the problem while not really solving it.

  9. wr says:

    Now who will Republicans blame when their ludicrous policies lead to them getting thrashed at the polls?

  10. Eric Florack says:

    Leftist pols? Reminder:

    You still can’t get past this illusion that Bush was anything like a conservative, can you?

  11. anjin-san says:

    You still can’t get past this illusion that Bush was anything like a conservative, can you?

    Bush probably would have had to shave another 10 points off his IQ to qualify as a modern conservative. Sad to see a movement that once had quality thinkers like Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan come to such a sorry pass…

  12. Eric Florack says:

    Your cheap shot noted.
    I”ve said it a thousand times before and I’ll say it 1000 times again… Bush…(either one) was at best a centrist. THe kind of centrism that the GOP leadership has beomce infatuated with. The response of the electorate to John McCain last cycle should have been the first clue to the GOP leadership.