Are They Nuts? Sens. Leahy, Sanders Back ACORN — updated | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Are They Nuts? Sens. Leahy, Sanders Back ACORN — updated 

In a lopsided 83-7 vote last night, the Senate voted to bar the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from granting any funds to the nonprofit group known as ACORN.

Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I) voted against the amendment, and have drawn the ire of Vermont Republicans.

ACORN, which stands for Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, has become a rallying cry for those who believe Pres. Barack Obama has ties to corrupt grassroots organizations.

In a recent video, a conservative activist posing as a prostitute and pimp tried to get free tax advice from an ACORN worker. Three ACORN offices — in Washington, DC, Baltimore and Brooklyn — provided advice to the "couple."

ACORN officials claim the voices of the couple were dubbed in later and do not represent the actual exchange that occurred between the staff. However, numerous staffers have been fired as a result of the news.

In response to this and past concerns related to filing false voter registrations, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) authored an amendment to ban ACORN from receiving HUD money.

“The events of last week are not isolated. They magnify a troubling, systemic and criminal pattern. They serve as a public window into an organization besieged by corruption, fraud and illegal activities committed on the taxpayer’s dime," said Johanns in a statement. “Until a full investigation is launched into ACORN, no taxpayer money should be used to fund their activities. A vote in favor of my amendment is a vote in favor of the taxpayer and against the status quo."

Gee, I hope this guy is as tough on military contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater, eh? Something tells me not.

ACORN officials, for their part, say the constant attacks on their organization are, at best, racist.

"We are their Willy Horton for 2009. We are the boogeyman for the right wing and its echo chambers. If ACORN did not exist, the right wing would have needed to create us in order to achieve their agenda, their missions, their ideal, retrograde America," said Bertha Lewis, ACORN's chief organizer, in a statement.

Lewis said the scam was attempted over a period of months in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and other locales before it succeeded.

Both senators said the action of one or two workers should not disqualify any organization from receiving federal funds, and organizations shouldn't be banned just because politicians don't agree with their mission.

“Congress should not compound the wrongful and stupid actions depicted on these videos by deciding to set political standards for federal grants," Leahy told Seven Days. "Just as I would be against banning other specific organizations on the right or on the left from applying for competitive grants, I believe it is harmful, even though popular, to approve an amendment like this."

Sanders concurred. He said he's glad the employees in question have been fired, but the organization has done a lot of good work in the past.

“The action of some ACORN employees in recent days, as documented on video, is outrageous and indefensible and I’m glad they have been fired," said Sanders. "On the other hand, it is important to note that over the years ACORN has done some very important work in fighting for affordable housing, banking services in low-income areas and decent-paying jobs.

“At a time when 17 percent of our workforce is either unemployed or underemployed and when 46 million Americans have no health insurance, I think that it’s a very bad idea for Congress to start spending large amounts of time arguing about who should or should not be eligible to receive federal funds," added Sanders.

Both Sanders and Leahy said the current nonpartisan federal grant review process allows agencies to be examined based on their record of performance, not their political leanings.

"Today it could be a progressive-type organization that is barred," said Sanders. "Tomorrow, it could be a conservative organization."

That may be, but the Vermont GOP wasted no time in blasting the senators for their vote in an email to supporters late Tuesday afternoon.

"Leahy's and Bernie Sanders' vote in favor of continuing to pour millions of taxpayer dollars into an organization that is riddled with fraud and abuse is an embarrassment to the people of Vermont and an insult to the taxpayers," read the email. "The fact that the bi-partisan condemnation of ACORN included 83 senators demonstrates just how far out of the mainstream Leahy and Sanders truly are, and is another example of why moderate, common-sense Vermonters are leaving the Vermont Democratic Party."

In return for their outrage, the Vermont Republicans asked people to donate $20 to the party.

UPDATE (9/17)

Today the House took up a similar measure to ban ACORN from receiving federal funds. The measure was attached to student aid legislation and passed overwhelmingly, 345-75. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) voted with the majority.

Doesn't he know it's hard out here for a pimp?

UPDATE (9/18)

After several requests from Seven Days, Rep. Peter Welch today explained his vote to ban the low-income advocacy group ACORN from receiving federal funds.

“The actions taken by ACORN employees reveal a disturbing and intolerable pattern of abuse of taxpayer dollars. The organization must be held accountable – and Congress must get back to work on reforming our health care system so that all Americans have access to quality and affordable health care.”

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Bio:
Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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