ACORN Co-Founder Defends Group's Integrity, Blasts 'Unfair' Critics

ACORN is an institution of integrity that is getting an unfair rap from news outlets unwilling to look at the group's 38-year history of advocacy work, its co-founder says.

Wade Rathke, ACORN's co-founder and former chief organizer, blasted FOX News on Tuesday for its "unfair" coverage of a group he said has served as a champion for social justice since 1970. Rathke, in an interview, said FOX News should "be careful and fair about how it looks at the organization's work."

"It's a wonderful organization. I do nothing but wish for its success," he said. "You have to look at the motivation of some groups."

A non-partisan grassroots community organization of low and moderate-income people, ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- has come under fire in the past week after videos surfaced showing some workers in several cities giving tax advice to an undercover filmmaker who, purporting to be a pimp, says he wanted to run a brothel.

The U.S. Census Bureau severed all ties with the organization following the videos' release, and the Senate voted Tuesday to bar funding to the group.

But Rathke, who left the group in June 2008, defended the group's objectives and touted its role in raising the minimum wage and passing the Community Reinvestment Act — a federal law enacted in 1977 to reduce discriminatory credit practices against those living in low-income communities. He also cited the group's work on local living wage laws in 15 cities, including Chicago, Oakland, Denver and New York.

Rathke formed the organization — along with co-founder Gary Delgado — in 1970 after he was sent to Little Rock, Ark., by the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) to help people on welfare get food and clothing. The campaign soon morphed into a movement called Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now — which later became ACORN.

Though Rathke declined to speak about the specific scandals involving the group, he said ACORN has never been convicted of a crime — despite various charges of voter fraud, embezzlement, and employee misconduct.

Eleven ACORN workers were arrested in Miami last week on charges of voter registration fraud — including registering the name of late actor Paul Newman. In March 2008, an ACORN worker in Pennsylvania was sentenced for making 29 phony voter registration forms. And in 2007, Washington State filed felony charges against several ACORN employees and supervisors for more than 1,700 fraudulent voter registrations.

Rathke dismissed the significance of the charges, saying "there were thousands of people who were involved in various voter registration drives." He said the government must implement a better system to ensure that all eligible voters are registered.

ACORN says it is non-partisan, but its legally separate political action wing advocates liberal causes. It endorsed President Obama in the 2008 election.

Rathke has repeatedly blasted the news media and conservative groups for intentionally targeting ACORN because of its progressive agenda. In a posting on his "Chief Organizer Blog," Rathke said the Census Bureau's decision to break ties with ACORN showed "how willing the Obama administration is open to a cave-in to the conservatives on false pretenses on a completely fake 'issue.'"

"This is all just more reputational McCarthyism as the rightwing and Republicans attack ACORN," he wrote.