This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 28, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor Follow-up" segment tonight: As we reported last week, tens of millions of dollars, much of it tax money, going to the community activist group ACORN. And now we learn that big corporate money has been donated to ACORN as well. A partial list: Bank of American has given $3 million since 2005, JP Morgan, $5 million since '98, and Citigroup gave $5,000 to the Baltimore chapter of ACORN. Of course, all three of those banks are getting TARP money. The question is where is all the cash going? Joining us now from Washington, Rev. Gloria Swieringa, Chairman of the Maryland of ACORN and Bertha Lewis, ACORN's CEO.
First of all, ladies, we appreciate you coming in here. That speaks very well of you. And Ms. Lewis, as you know, we found out that millions of dollars in ACORN donations are being sent down to 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans, an old funeral home. We went down there. Nobody would tell us very much. So the money goes in there and then what happens to it?
BERTHA LEWIS, ACORN CEO: Well, first of all, let me just set the record straight and let me thank you, Mr. O'Reilly, for having us on your show because this is — we do want to talk about what we really do. It's an old address. It used to be our original headquarters, old converted funeral home as you say. And for many years, our chapter, and we operated out of there. And for many years in New Orleans, that was where our main headquarters was. And so it isn't like a sucking machine where money goes in, you know.
O'REILLY: It's a depot.
LEWIS: It's our corporate office.
O'REILLY: And not only you, but about 260 other organizations that are tied in somewhat to you philosophically, some financially go there. But when the money comes in, it goes to a group called Citizens Consulting, Inc. That's a private concern so I can't see their books. But we're talking about tens of millions of dollars. Some of it my money, Ms. Lewis, some of it I worked hard for and gave it to the government. You have gotten that money through various government programs. So where does the money go? Why can't I see how ACORN spends the tens of millions of dollars it gets?
LEWIS: I think you see it every day. Most of that money that we get we do foreclosure prevention. We try to protect children from lead poisoning, every single day. You know. In fact, helping people stay in their homes. Helping folks get affordable housing. So we've been doing this work for almost 40 years, everyday.
O'REILLY: All right, so the money that you get. All of these tens of millions goes to help poor people. But then we have a guy named Dale Rathke, who apparently embezzled a million dollars from you. His brother Wade was the former head of ACORN. And ACORN does not charge, does not bring charges against Mr. Rathke. So Ms. Lewis, you can see how someone like me can say hey, this organization ACORN is not being one responsibly. A guy embezzled a million bucks. They wouldn't prosecute the man. Wade Rathke still has an office in Canal Street in New Orleans. You can see where I'm a little suspicious, madam.
LEWIS: Well, let me just clear it up for you. Number one, I am the CEO and chief organizer. I have zero tolerance for any sort of misdoing.
O'REILLY: Then why didn't you prosecute Dale Rathke?
LEWIS: Once the board found out — we — this happened 8 years ago and the board immediately terminated them. Guilty of wrongdoing.
O'REILLY: Why didn't you prosecute him? A million bucks is a lot of money.
LEWIS: And we've recovered every single dime and won't — will not tolerate any employee on my staff under my regime with wrongdoing.
O'REILLY: With all due respect, Ms. Lewis, that was a major mistake to let that man not be prosecuted. Now I want to get over.
LEWIS: I wasn't in charge, but I tell you this. Anyone that does wrongdoing, I'm in charge, we will take swift action.
O'REILLY: Wow, you're going to be very busy, because you got indictments in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington state and Nevada right now. Now, I want to get over to you, Reverend. Your philosophy, OK, of America is it a socialist philosophy? Do you believe that I, as a rich man, Reverend, should give my money or it be taken from me by the government to poor people? Do you believe that, Madam?
REV. GLORIA SWIERINGA, MARYLAND ACORN CHAIRWOMAN: I believe that America is a democracy. And I believe that properly constructed — there is room for everyone to prosper. Part of the problem is our society tends to be structured so that the people on the bottom have a little bit of difficulty finding their way to a better position. One of the things…
O'REILLY: OK, and that certainly is true.
O'REILLY: Now, should the government force then me, take more than half my income or whatever the government sees fit to take, give it to organizations like ACORN, to spread around to the poor? Is that economic justice? Is that social justice, madam?
SWIERINGA: My view of — I'm not aware of the government taking your money and giving it to ACORN. What I am aware of is that ACORN competes for grants like any other organization.
O'REILLY: Well, but philosophically should the government have the right to take my money and give it to people who are poor?
SWIERINGA: I don't — we're not encouraging the government to take your money and give it to anyone. We are encouraging the government to do more than it's doing, to have a level societal playing field. We believe that all of God's children deserve a seat in the choir. Not just the rich.
O'REILLY: Okay. Now, MS. Lewis I'm going to ask you pretty much the same question. It seems that ACORN is a quasi-socialist organization. That you want to give, it's almost a Robin Hood organization. Take from the rich, give to the poor. Because that's the only way the reverend's philosophy can come true. You have to get the money from somewhere. And the only place you can get it from is from people who make it. So, I think you're a quasi-socialist organization. Am I wrong?
LEWIS: Well, I think you are wrong, Mr. O'Reilly. But we have 400,000-plus members all across the country. Working people, low and moderate income people. They have pay taxes. They work hard. They want to see a good democratic society. And all of these labels that we put on Socialists, I don't know about that. I know one thing. We're proud Americans. We have been doing this work and doing housing work and working in poor neighborhoods for over 40 years.
LEWIS: And we think that at the right thing to do is to have a level playing field for all Americans.
O'REILLY: And I respect, I absolutely respect your point of view. Now I'm going to ask you one question now. And this is important, Ms. Lewis.
LEWIS: All of your questions are important, Mr. O'Reilly.
O'REILLY: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I hope you have think you have gotten a fair shake, ladies, because what's what I try to give you. Will you let my investigators see the books of the Citizens Consulting Inc. Operation, which takes the money that's given to you and spread around? Can my investigators see your books?
LEWIS: Well, you see, Mr. O'Reilly, there you go again.
O'REILLY: No, no, it's a yes or no Ms. Lewis.
LEWIS: You know, let me see the books. Let me see Citizens Consulting.
O'REILLY: Let me see the books.
LEWIS: We comply with all laws everywhere.
O'REILLY: Then you should have no problem with letting us see the books so we can report that.
LEWIS: And we make sure that folks do that. Now, I don't think that as far as I know that your investigators are, you know, government CPAs.
O'REILLY: They're the best in the business. So I'm going to take that as a no Ms. Lewis but I will leave the offer open.
O'REILLY: We will be happy on a moment's notice to come down and look at your books so that we can show America and the world that you guys are on the up and up. Ladies, I appreciate you very much. Thank you for coming on.
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