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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Civil Liberties



March 23, 2010 - 12:21 PM | by: Eric Shawn

ACORN, the embattled community activist group, says it is disbanding.

The group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, claims it will close its affiliates and field offices by April 1st. But some of its critics think the move is really an April fool’s switch. They claim ACORN actually isn’t going anywhere, just rebranding under different local organizations with new names but with the same mission.
ACORN has faced a variety of allegations over the past two years, from voter registration fraud to Republican charges that it uses public funds for liberal political purposes. ACORN workers have gone to jail, and undercover tapes of ACORN workers seemingly giving advice on how to skirt the law especially made the group a lightning rod for criticism.

ACORN has denied the charges, pointing to its own commissioned investigation that found allegations against it baseless.
“ACORN has faced a series of well-orchestrated, relentless, well-funded right wing attacks that are unprecedented since the McCarthy era,” claims ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. In a statement she said in part, “Our effective work empowering African-Americans and low-income voters made us a target.”

But critics say ACORN’s undoing is entirely its own fault.

“I don’t think we are done with this,” Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, a noted ACORN critic, told Fox News. “This is a big step in the right direction because I believe they are a corrupt, criminal enterprise.”

King calls the move “a downsize of ACORN,” but believes its operations will be shifted to state organizations that “may well grow.” He says “tigers don’t change their stripes and neither to people who are operating in a corrupt fashion.”

Critics point to a variety of new local organizations that are springing up to apparently take ACORN’s place. In Brooklyn, New York the ACORN office now has a new sign: “New York Communities for Change,” and in Massachusetts the president of the new group, “New England United for Justice” is listed as Maude Hurd, the president of ACORN, in its articles of Organization.

There are a growing number of such local groups replacing ACORN, according to Matthew Vadum, of the Capital Research Center. He says ACORN Housing has changed its name to Affordable Housing Centers of America, Inc., and that other ACORN connected groups include: Arkansas Community Organizations, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and Missourians Organizing for Reform Empowerment.

“This is a trick, a public relations trick,” says Vadum, calling the move an attempt “to dupe Congress and the American people to think they have gone away and they have not.” He says “the same people are running the new chapters that have sprung up and in some cases, out of the same offices.”
The moves in Congress to cut ACORN’s funding came after the shocking undercover video-tapes made by conservative activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles who posed as a pimp and a prostitute trying to secure ACORN’s help to open a supposed brothel using underage girls. A federal Judge has since declared the Congressional move unconstitutional, but the financial damage may have been done. Several federal agencies have cut their ACORN funding and ACORN even tried to use the example of the tapes for fundraising purposes.

Giles has not returned a request for comment on ACORN’s announcement, and O’Keefe told me he cannot comment because of the on-going investigation of another of his video projects. He and three others have been charged with trying to “manipulate” the phone system of Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. O’Keefe says he was engaged in a journalistic endeavor, going undercover to try and show that there was no problem with the Senator’s phone system during the run-up to the health care vote.

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