ACORN Lives Forever in Congressional Budget Bills

New Orleans     ACORN lives!  There is no doubt of that fact as affiliates continue to organize in country after country around the world and the ACORN Home Savers Campaign and other projects are robust in the USA as well.  ACORN also lives on the screen in the festival release version of the documentary, “The Organizer,” screened recently in Trenton, New Jersey, Benton, Arkansas, and Columbus, Ohio, and coming soon in Lansing, Michigan, Boston, Massachusetts, St. Petersburg, Florida, and Little Rock, Arkansas.  And, of course it lives in the hearts, minds, and daily lives and work of thousands of experienced ACORN leaders and members still working for social justice for low and moderate-income families throughout the country.

As part of the walking-dead, almost eight years after its reorganization and bankruptcy filing in the US in 2010, it still lives as the boogey-man, vampire-like scourge of the right-wing Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Congressional budget process.  Once again, ACORN is banned as part of the budget documents.  I’ll let Griffin Connolly’s report in Roll Call tell the story:

Tucked away on one of the 2,232 pages of the omnibus spending bill Congress sent to President Donald Trump’s desk early Friday morning is a provision to ban federal funding for a group called the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.

ACORN does not exist, however, and hasn’t since 2009.

The group worked to register poor people to vote and to push for social services like expanded Medicaid and affordable housing. After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, House Republicans accused ACORN of running a mass voter fraud campaign and swinging the Oval Office to Obama. No evidence of voter fraud was ever found.

Still, Republicans — and many Democrats — voted to end federal funding to the organization in the 2009 spending package. ACORN dissolved shortly after that, but the language prohibiting funds to the group snuck its way into this year’s bill nearly a decade later.

“I don’t remember this ever being discussed one time,” Rep. Tom Cole told HuffPost. “It wasn’t discussed at a hearing. I don’t remember it being discussed at any meeting with my Democratic colleagues and counterparts who negotiated the bill.”

The Oklahoma Republican said staffers may have inserted the ACORN provision in this year’s package after lifting portions of text from previous years’ spending deals.

The text reads: “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.”

ACORN does not have “affiliates,” “subsidiaries” or “allied organizations” because it no longer exists. Corporate and nonprofit law do not define the term “successor,” HuffPost reported.

“They did it in!” Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut quipped about her Republican colleagues defunding a nonexistent organization, according to HuffPost.

What can I say?  Bad boys and girls in Congress and elsewhere, beware, ACORN is still coming for you, and Congress knows it and fears it still.

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ACORN Makes the Federal Budget Extension Bill Yet Again

Little Rock   In a story headlined, “I Can’t Do This Anymore, Congress. I Can’t: Republicans are blocking funds for the long-shuttered ACORN again,” Zach Carter, the senior economy reporter for the Huffington Post tries to retire from the ACORN-Is-Dead piece after years on the beat. Since I’ve counted on Zach to scour the budget to find out if ACORN is still high on the hater list for the Republicans, I’ll miss him, but I do what to honor his toil by sharing his report from the HuffPost today, so here is what Zach Carter has to say:

WASHINGTON ― One morning in early March of 2013, I received a reporting tip for what I thought would be the single dumbest story I would ever write. When I answered the phone, the Capitol Hill staffer on the other end could barely contain his laughter. House Republicans had slipped detailed language into a must-pass government funding bill that would prevent federal cash from flowing to an anti-poverty group called ACORN.

My source wasn’t a cold-hearted bureaucrat.

The GOP had grown accustomed to demanding concessions from Democrats on critical legislation since winning control of the House in 2010. Some of these maneuvers ― including a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare ― carried serious policy implications. But this particular case of legislative hostage-taking came with a punchline: ACORN didn’t exist. The organization had disbanded nearly three years prior. Congress was about to do something thoroughly futile, for no reason.

There was a certain aesthetic harmony between the emptiness of this looming legislative assault and the attack that caused ACORN’s demise. In 2009, conservative provocateur James O’Keefe had stitched together undercover footage that appeared to show ACORN staffers offering financial advice to a pimp who declared he was prostituting underage girls. Multiple government investigations would eventually clear ACORN of legal wrongdoing, and O’Keefe’s career would descend into a series of bizarre self-owns. But the damage to ACORN was done. Congress voted to cut off federal funding and the group closed its doors, humiliated.

Years later, ACORN’s enemies were apparently still not satisfied. I called the GOP spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, who told me the anti-ACORN language was “a typical provision that is included in most appropriations bills.” This explanation, of course, only made everything weirder. Why would Congress routinely bar federal funding for an organization that doesn’t exist?

The ultimate answer turned out to be that Congress was barely functional. And it remains all-but-broken today. Four years later, here I am, sitting at my desk, writing another story about a budget bill attacking funds for ACORN. It’s right there on page 1,060 of the latest government funding legislation:

None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.Since ACORN does not exist, it has no affiliates or subsidiaries. “Allied organizations” and “successors” are not legally defined terms. I know because I have written different versions of this story over and over and over again. Every time Congress unveils a new bill to fund the federal government, I do a quick search through the text for “ACORN,” and Congress rarely lets me down.

Sometimes liberal publications or nerdy blogs boost the stories, but they always click well, because this tale is always so breathtakingly stupid. In August 2014, in a fit of foolishness, I declared the crusade against ACORN over because the language attacking funds for the nonexistent organization had disappeared from the budget bill. It reappeared in December of that year, prompting HuffPost’s publication of what I still believe to be the masterwork of this mini-genre, which we headlined “Tears of Sisyphus: Republicans Resurrect ACORN, Only To Murder It. Again.”

Once upon a time, lawmakers determined the federal budget by debating policy priorities and holding hearings about what the appropriate funding levels for different programs ought to be. This would be a series of negotiations over final appropriations and, ultimately, a relatively reliable stream of funds would emerge for social services, scientific research and other federal programs.

Congressional leaders abandoned that process some years ago, after a calamitous effort to extract ideological concessions tied to a bill to raise the debt ceiling nearly resulted in the U.S. government defaulting on the federal debt. In place of the old system, party leaders now copy and paste language from prior bills, seeking to avoid controversy, and hash out any disputes in private meetings. That’s how the ACORN phrasing makes it into law again and again. Somebody just pulls up whatever the old language was on Department of Health and Human Services funding, correctly assessing that whatever passed last time around won’t cause too much trouble today.

I used to get a kick out of the ACORN story. Most of my writing for HuffPost involves financial regulation, international bribery or some other technical issue involving money and numbers with high stakes. ACORN was a nice break ― something fun, stupid and essentially harmless.

But I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been writing about this foolishness for more than four years, and I’m not getting the same sense of joy or relief I used to get from seeing those five magic letters. The truth is that I’m starting to resent this beat, and I don’t want to remember it as something frustrating or annoying. I want to remember ACORN the way it deserves to be remembered. It’s not you, ACORN. It’s me.

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