Fallout From ACORN Scandal May Hovers Over Other Community Groups

As ACORN grapples with a scandal that in recent days has led the Census Bureau to sever ties and the Senate to block housing funding to the anti-poverty group, other groups with similar stated goals are left to wonder how the fallout might affect them.

ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, says its mission is to provide services to low-income communities, including housing counseling and voter registration drives.

But the group is on its heels after conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her pimp released hidden-camera videos in which ACORN employees in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, N.Y., gave advice on house-buying and how to account on tax forms for the woman's income. A fourth video released Tuesday shows a similar scene at an ACORN office in California.

The Senate voted 83-7 Monday to block the Housing and Urban Development Department from giving grants to ACORN. If passed by the House, ACORN would not be able to win HUD grants for programs such as counseling low-income people on how to get mortgages and for fair housing education and other outreach.

A spokesman for Housing and Urban Development Department told FOXNews.com that it provides funding to 25 groups that, like ACORN, have a national profile and similar goals. Among these groups are Catholic Charities, National Council of La Raza and the National Council on Aging.

Analysts on poverty and welfare said they believe the scandal will have little impact on these groups and other activists who receive federal funding but they were divided on the groups' sincerity and effectiveness.

"I don't see any large implications here," said Larry Mead, a professor of politics at New York University and an expert on poverty and welfare in the U.S.

Mead said groups like ACORN are under more pressure to show evidence of their results to justify their government funding than fighting overt internal corruption.

He also said the scandal shouldn't reflect poorly on ACORN as a whole.

"I don't know why this embarrassment [for the ACORN offices caught on video] would be an embarrassment for another branch on the other side of the country for ACORN," he said.

But Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and an expert on welfare and poverty said these community organizing networks "basically get paid to make noise" and "serve as a clearinghouse for moving government money around."

He cited Community Action Partnership and AmeriCorp VISTA as examples.

If Congress blocked funding to ACORN, "it's going to go someplace else," he said. "But that someplace else won't be that much different from ACORN."

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said that ACORN has received $53 million in taxpayer funds since 1994 and that the group was eligible for a wider set of funding in the pending legislation, which funds housing and transportation programs.

ACORN received $1.6 million of federal funding for its housing services in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Rector said the government spends more than $700 billion a year assisting low-income people, including cash, housing, food and medical care. "And we have no idea where that money goes," he said. Of that amount, $70 billion goes to what he called "amorphous" social service programs. But ACORN, he said, gets very little of that money relative to the total amount.

"If you wanted to clean the government up, ACORN is taking that much money," he said. "To the extent of what you're seeing, when people see the ACORN operations and the recognition of the closeness of ties between Obama and ACORN, it's a symbol of the overall incompetence of the welfare state."

Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership and former executive director of the Center for Community Change, predicted that ACORN will continue to receive funding despite the negative publicity because its mission is too important to ignore.

"There's a need for grassroots organizations to represent these people in our society that don't have political power," he said, adding that he believes ACORN does good work helping minorities and the poor.

"Will it have a long term impact?" he said of the ACORN scandal. "No. It may strengthen the grassroots movement."