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Con: Taxpayers should demand a permanent ban on funding to ACORN

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Caroline May
January 23, 2010
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Should Congress restore funding for ACORN?

If you think Congress stripped all federal funding from ACORN, think again.


Though it voted to ban federal funding for ACORN—aka the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—in September, funding for the disgraced group could resume whenever Congress stops renewing the continuing resolution containing the funding ban.


What’s more, ACORN could receive a windfall should the cap-and-trade legislation now making its way through the Senate eventually become law.


In June, the U.S. House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act—better known as Waxman-Markey for its sponsors, Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts—ostensibly to alleviate global warming by mandating an 83 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2050.


A similar bill, introduced in the Senate by Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts, has been approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Buried in both bills are provisions that would allocate vast amounts of federal money to community development organizations such as ACORN.


Members of Congress who played to public outrage by vociferously objecting to ACORN’s abuses may now want to take the time to read some of the more obscure provisions of the proposed climate bills.


Section 264 in the Waxman-Markey bill provides up to $300 million in funding for “community development organizations” so they can assist businesses and others in low-income neighborhoods with “conservation strategies, supplies and methods to improve energy efficiency.”


Stephen Spruiell and Kevin Williamson, writing in The National Review, help put this funding in perspective: “Think federally subsidized consultants paid $55 an hour to tell businesses to turn down their AC in the summer.”


The Kerry-Boxer bill contains similar language in Section 156, allocating up to $200 million to “promote green development in distressed communities.” The Senate makes no mention of who would oversee such programs, but the intention is clear: community development organizations such as ACORN.


Between the passage of Waxman-Markey bill in the House and the introduction of the Kerry-Boxer bill, reports of multiple ACORN scandals were front-page news. Seemingly recognizing how politically explosive it would be to include funding for “community development organizations,” Kerry and Boxer deliberately obscured that fact.


One can debate the wisdom of spending hundreds of millions of dollars of “green development” in economically distressed communities at a time when the deficit is already $1.4 trillion and many Americans are suffering, with the official unemployment over 10 percent.


What we shouldn’t debate is whether it is a wise idea to outsource these programs to community organizers. In the past, such groups have misused federal funding, skirted tax laws and strayed beyond their missions.


ACORN has become the archetype for federally funded scandal. During the last election cycle, a number of its members were charged with turning in thousands of false voter registration forms.


Last year, The New York Times reported that Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization. Multiple ACORN housing workers have been caught on tape advising people on how to set up a prostitution ring while evading taxes.


As these headlined transgressions become distant memories, ACORN, as the largest community-organizing group in America, would likely become a major beneficiary of cap-and-trade should some version of Waxman-Markey or Kerry-Boxer become law. Such funding is even more probable given the large number of ACORN affiliates now promoting themselves as experts on environmental justice.


Groups across the ideological spectrum have rejected the cap-and-trade legislation as a misguided endeavor, likely to impede economic growth while delivering minimal environmental benefit. Polls show a mere 17 percent of the public supports federal funding for ACORN.


The Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer bills send the wrong message to those who would abuse the public trust.


This fact alone should consign them to richly deserved deaths.


Caroline May is a policy analyst at National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank. Readers may write to her at NCPPR, 501 Capitol Court NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; Web site: www.nationalcenter.org.

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