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Congressional report clears ACORN of wrongdoing — after group forced to disband

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:24 EDT
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When a duo of right-wing provocateurs posing as a pimp and prostitute released selectively-edited videos trying to impugn the community activist group ACORN, both Democrats and Republicans condemned the organization.

Congress then voted to cut off federal funding for the group (a decision that was later ruled unconstitutional). Following negative press and Congress’ vote, ACORN effectively disbanded Apr. 1 and reorganized under new names.

But a just-issued report by the Government Accountability Office that reviewed ACORN’s federal funding at the behest of Congress  found little grist for the mill for politicians or right-wing bloggers looking to bash the now-defunct advocacy group for the poor.

The 38-page report surveyed over 31 federal agencies, probing how ACORN used federal funds and whether adequate controls on spending existed.

The report found no evidence of fraud, lax oversight or misuse of federal funds.

In fact, the report discovered that ACORN had adequately accounted for spending $40 million worth of major and minor grants awarded by the federal government to the group since 2005 to combat a variety of problems afflicting poor Americans, including lead poisoning, housing discrimination and lack of adequate job training.

The preliminary report on the group’s funding also found that of the grants that warranted audits no irregularities in spending were found.  Smaller grantees said that oversight was adequate as well.

Of eight major grants awarded ACORN by the federal government the report found fault with one, a grant by Neighbor Works.

“Neighbor Works determined that ACORN Housing Corporation had not provided a description of what it planned to accomplish under the grant, as required. After Neighbor Works brought this to the attention of ACORN Housing Corporation officials, these officials subsequently provided the documentation. Oversight of sub-awards is generally delegated to grantees,” the report states.

Of fifteen sub-grants awarded ACORN by a variety of federal agencies, the report did not find any irregularities.

“EPA, Treasury, NEA, and Neighbor Works grantees provided a total of 15 sub-awards to ACORN or potentially related organizations,” it said. “EPA reviewed the grantees’ work plans which included sub-award information, finding no problem with the sub-awards.”

The report noted that six of nine agencies that reported grants to ACORN still had ongoing audits of the programs that had not yet been completed, including an audit of Investment Recovery Act funds given to the organization.

The report also found that 29 out of 31 federal Inspector General’s offices do not have any ongoing investigations into ACORN. The IG’s office of the Internal Revenue Service and the Housing and Urban Development Department declined to report if there were ongoing investigations into ACORN.

Along with the preliminary finding, the federal agency did a comprehensive review of all criminal investigations by the Department of Justice and federal Inspector General’s since 2005.

The agency also found the Federal Election Commission had closed all investigations into voter fraud by the group.

“The FEC identified four closed matters that involved allegations that ACORN or potentially related organizations violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.28.  For each of these matters, the FEC determined that there was no evidence that such violations occurred.”

The GAO report said that of six FBI investigations into ACORN-related voter fraud all had been dropped because of lack of evidence. Only cases against individuals working for ACORN were prosecuted.

“However, only ACORN employees were the subjects of the prosecutions. According to ACORN and Project vote officials, the organizations provided information to local election officials that helped initiate prosecutions against their employees who may have been involved in voter registration fraud.”

The report gives brief mention of the now-infamous video that brought down the organization, noting that the actions depicted in the recordings did not result in any criminal prosecutions.

The report’s conclusions cast doubt on the near-universal condemnation of ACORN that proceeded from the release of video tapes made during visits to several branches in different cities by right-wing activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles.

Posing as a college student and a prostitute, the duo solicited advice from ACORN workers, many of whom can be seen allegedly counseling the couple on ways to evade taxes and how to run a brothel. Critics said the video clips were taken out of context and highlighted only those parts that looked disparaging.

 
 
 
 
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