Published September 15, 2009
Pressure is building for a top-to-bottom review of ACORN in the wake of undercover videos showing the organization giving advice on how to skirt federal laws, with a top Senate Republican calling for a "thorough" investigation and other lawmakers proposing sanctions.
House Minority Leader John Boehner introduced legislation Tuesday that would break all federal government ties with ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
And Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., wrote Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation by the Justice Department. He cited reports that ACORN may "have been engaged in illegal activity" by aiding and abetting tax evasion, prostitution, human trafficking, fraud and conspiracy. The Justice Department did not immediately comment on Johanns' letter.
And House Republicans wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to use his authority to end all federal funding for ACORN. The call for a congressional probe came from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Shelby made the request in a letter to committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
Brian Kettenring, an ACORN spokesman, said Republicans were "playing politics" and trying to "stop ACORN's good work fighting to stop the foreclosure crisis and to win quality, affordable health care for all Americans."
The latest developments come after the Senate voted 83-7 Monday to cut off the group from Housing and Urban Development grants. The Census Bureau on Friday also severed ties with ACORN.
Nine lawmakers, eight of them Republican, did not vote on Monday. Sens. Roland Burris, D-Ill.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., voted against the Senate measure.
The vote followed the release of secretly recorded videotapes of group members offering assistance to an independent filmmaker and a young woman posing as a pimp and a prostitute. Those tapes surfaced on the heels of arrests in Florida of 11 ACORN workers accused of voter registration fraud.
"Last night's vote served as a resounding rebuke on behalf of American taxpayers regarding the activities of ACORN," Shelby said in a statement. "While this vote is important, it is limited in scope and we must know more. It is imperative that we proceed immediately to investigate what appears to be ACORN's stunning disregard for the law and abuse of taxpayer funds.
"Such an investigation would serve as the basis for determining not only whether ACORN is worthy of receiving other federal funds this year, but ever again," Shelby said. He wrote to the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., also wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting a Department of Justice investigation.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggested Tuesday that he would consider taking the kind of action taken by the Senate.
"I want to look at that. The Senate responded overwhelmingly," the Maryland Democrat said. He called the ACORN workers' actions "despicable."
House Republicans wrote in their letter to the president that he should "disclose and terminate" all federal funding to ACORN.
"It is evident that ACORN is incapable of using federal funds in a manner that is consistent with the law," they wrote. "Immediate action is necessary to ensure that no additional tax dollars are directed to ACORN."
Law enforcement sources confirm that the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has launched an investigation into the ACORN Brooklyn office -- which was featured in the latest video released by filmmaker James O'Keefe.
As with the videos shot in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the ACORN workers in the Brooklyn video are shown offering the "pimp" and "prostitute" advice on how to avoid detection from officials weighing whether to give them loans on housing, which the duo said they wanted to use to run a brothel.
The workers in Baltimore and Washington have since been fired.
But the organization claims that O'Keefe tried the hidden-camera operation in a number of other ACORN offices with no luck.
ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis said in a written statement that while she could not defend the actions of the terminated workers, O'Keefe may have committed a felony during the operation.
"It is clear that the videos are doctored, edited and in no way the result of the fabricated story being portrayed by conservative, activist 'filmmaker' O'Keefe and his partner in crime," Lewis said.
O'Keefe has demanded an apology for claiming he falsified the tapes.
Lewis also called the Senate decision on Monday evening "a rare and politically convenient step."