Bad Seeds – Why the ACORN Scandal Matters to Other Nonprofits
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, aka ACORN, was, until the past year, a relatively unknown organization to most Americans. Founded in 1970 and based in New Orleans, Louisiana, ACORN’s most visible face is that of a 501(c)(3) public charity ostensibly advocating for low- and moderate-income families in the areas of neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. ACORN also has a non-charitable arm that lobbies for primarily left-wing causes and candidates, as well as dozens of affiliated splinter groups. ACORN’s “charitable” division receives millions upon millions of dollars in federal grant money each year.
ACORN’s profile increased dramatically during last year’s presidential campaign, with then-Senator Obama’s candidacy and subsequent victory, himself having been a community organizer with close ties to the group. The problems for ACORN started when numerous chapters were busted for voter registration fraud. Estimates go as high as 400,000 falsely registered voters, including Mickey Mouse and Paul Newman. ACORN’s voter registration program is under investigation in 14 states, with over 30 indictments having been handed down so far with likely many more to come.
The latest fiasco for ACORN comes from the most unlikely of sources: a couple of 20-something budding independent journalists who visited various ACORN housing assistance offices around the country, posing as a prostitute and pimp. As of today (September 16, 2009), we know of 4 ACORN offices where workers have been videotaped bending over backwards to help these two kids, dressed like characters from a bad 70’s movie, set up a brothel, commit tax fraud and cover up a child sex slavery ring. ACORN insists the whole “sting” is fraudulent, but yet it has fired most of the employees shown on the tapes. To make matters worse, now the federal government has swung into action. First, the Census bureau severed all ties to ACORN (ACORN had been contracted with to assist in the 2010 census). A few days later, the Senate voted 83-7 to cut off all HUD (Dept of Housing and Urban Development) funding from the group’s housing division. And just today, the House will consider legislation to strip ACORN of all government funding.
Why are we talking about this? Well, for one, most of the main stream media has been ignoring the story, so many of you may not even be aware of what’s going on. But there is a bigger reason: legitimate nonprofits, especially those with programs that help the needy with housing and similar programs, stand to be tarnished in the minds of the donating public by virtue of ACORN’s misdeeds.
Over the years, we have worked with hundreds of programs that target the needs of the poor and inner city. The vast majority of these organizations are small, neighborhood-based charities that truly make a difference in the lives of those they serve. Many are community development outreaches of area churches offering faith-based solutions to some of life’s most difficult circumstances. What a tragedy it would be to see these hard-working, struggling organizations suffer guilt by similarity. Make no mistake: this story is not going away anytime soon. ACORN, regardless of whatever good things it may have accomplished here or there, is fast becoming a pariah due to one of two things: either its unwillingness to run a tight ship or outright criminal behavior. Either way, it is probably curtains for them.
So how does a legitimate program protect its reputation and funding base? Americans are some of the most generous people on the planet. Billions of dollars are donated each year by families all across America. Witness 9/11, the tsunami, hurricane Katrina…Americans give big. But nothing will shut off the flow of cash faster than the taint of corruption. First, if your organization has any ties whatsoever to ACORN or one of its affiliates, you have a decision to make. Do we stay or do we go? I think you already know our advice: run! Assuming your organization has no ties to ACORN, you need to aggressively reassure your donors that your program is clean and its operations completely transparent. We sincerely hope that good community programs all across the country will rise up and demand accountability and set the record straight that corruption, cronyism and fraud will not be tolerated among their ranks.
You want to protect your organization? Stand up for integrity!
We pray that all the good organizations that accomplish so much survive this scandal unscathed. We believe it will take deliberate action on their part to ensure that outcome.