An ACORN by Any Other Name Still Smells Like an ACORN, Critics Say

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If it looks like an ACORN and it acts like an ACORN ...

Republicans say they know an ACORN when they see it, and just because the community activist organization says it's disbanding, that doesn't mean it's gone.

"Just as criminals change their aliases, ACORN is changing its name," California Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a written statement. "But make no mistake about it, just because they change their name, doesn't mean anything has really changed at all."

Issa led an investigation into the group, which announced on Monday that it is closing after a series of undercover videos last year showed its employees offering tax advice to a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute, tarnishing the group's reputation and crippling its source of funding.

The congressman said ACORN's announcement is just another scheme designed to get its hands on taxpayer funds.

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"As this most recent presidential election has showed us, just because you profess change, doesn't mean you're going to change," Issa said. "The bottom line is, whatever they decide to call themselves, they are still the same corporation with the same board, staff and people. Ultimately, the real question is: aside from their name, what is really going to change?"

ACORN's board decided to close state affiliates and field offices by April 1, with some national operations continuing to operate for at least several weeks before they shut down for good, spokesman Kevin Whelan told The Associated Press. While the group's political operations, including its much-criticized voter registration efforts, will close, the housing unit will remain open.

But most of the 20 chapters of ACORN are organizing under new names, a source within the group told Reuters.

Several of its largest affiliates, including ACORN New York and ACORN California, already broke away this year and changed their names in a bid to shed their parent organization's tarnished image and restore revenue that ran dry in the wake of the video scandal.

But the only difference between the new groups and ACORN is the names, Issa said. The groups are keeping the same employees and the same tax identification numbers. For example, Issa said, Affordable Housing Centers of America was formerly ACORN Housing. The new corporation has the same tax ID and employee identification number as ACORN Housing, which received millions of dollars in funding from the Department of Housing Urban and Development.

The Chicago office seems to have at one time been the headquarters for ACORN Housing, according to Matthew Vadum of Capital Research Center. A company brochure says AHCOA is a" HUD approved housing counseling agency" with "access to 43 mortgage servicers."

In Missouri, Jeff Ordower, a former head organizer for ACORN in that state, founded Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, which focuses on jobs, education and housing advocacy.

He did not return repeated messages left on voicemail seeking comment.

Other groups that bear a very strong resemblance to ACORN are the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, New York Communities for Change, New England United for Justice in Massachusetts and Arkansas Community Organizations.

On its Web site, the California group takes pains to distinguish itself from ACORN, saying it has no legal, financial or structural ties to ACORN.

But the executive director of the group, Amy Schur, is the former executive director of California ACORN, and Edgar Hilbert, a member of the group's interim board of directors, is a former member of the ACORN state chapter.

ACORN did not return several messages seeking comment.

Rinku Sen, executive director of Applied Research Center, a racial justice think tank and activist group, told that she has not seen any evidence to suggest ACORN is simply organizing under different names.

"There are lots of people, members, activists who have been associated with ACORN in the past and they're continuing to do work," she said. "But I think the truth is ACORN is out of business. I don't see much evidence that they could reconstitute."

Sen said she has not heard about the national leadership of ACORN being involved in any of the new groups' activities and that people who organize are going to keep organizing.

"There's a real sense of the need and imperative to do something different and protect the ability of poor people and people of color to organize for government accountability," she said.

At one time ACORN could draw on 400,000 members to lobby for liberal causes, such as raising the minimum wage or adopting universal health care. It was arguably most successful at registering hundreds of thousands of low-income voters, though that mission was dogged by fraud allegations, including that some workers submitted forms signed by 'Mickey Mouse' and other cartoon characters.

ACORN's financial situation and reputation went into free fall within days of the secretly recorded videos' release in September. Congress reacted by yanking the organization's federal funding, private donors held back cash and scores of ACORN offices closed.

Earlier this month, a U.S. judge reiterated a ruling that the federal law blacklisting ACORN and groups allied with it was unconstitutional because it singled them out. But that didn't mean any money would be automatically restored.

A spokesman for Issa told that the congressman is monitoring the group very closely and is working on a small report to detail ACORN's machinations.

"You have activists who have been doing a certain group of things, including defrauding the voters by registering and turning out nonexistent or unqualified voters," he said. "People that have been taking money under false pretenses, taking advantage of the very people they said they claimed they would serve.

"So the bottom line is these organizations are not repenting or changing. They're simply changing how they appear to the public so they can do the public in again."