Friday, August 1, 2008

A Proper Relationship with the Host?

I don’t want to keep returning to the subject of ACORN as there are other things I want to move on to but I want to share a recent press release as worthwhile follow-up.

Previously, I have written about how curiously little community benefit is provided by the ACORN “Community Benefits Agreement” (“CBA”) with the Ratner organization and how ACORN lost their qualification as a responsible or credible community participant with respect to Atlantic Yards on May 17, 2005 when they signed the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) which is its predicate. (Among other things the agreement precludes them from speaking freely and honestly about the project.) (See: Saturday, June 28, 2008, SELLING OUT THE COMMUNITY FOR BEANS (A GIANT WRONG)

Thereafter I wrote about the ACORN embezzlement scandal and how it might relate to the CBA and MOU, including their suspiciousness. (Thursday, July 24, 2008, FALLING ACORN! HOW FAR FROM THE TREE?
The piece I want to share as follow-up is in MarketWatch (source: The Consumers Rights League); The Evidence Against ACORN Mounts: Newly Obtained Whistleblower Affidavits Further Document Abuse of Taxpayer Funds, July 31, 2008.

The new story is mostly about ACORN illegally using taxpayer dollars to fund political activity by commingling funds of Acorn Housing Corporation (“AHC”), a federally recognized tax-exempt organization, and ACORN. Further, I wrote about the difficulty government housing agencies are going to have in clearing ACORN through their background checks. Clearance may have just gotten more difficult because the article links to affidavits from two former AHC employees one of which swears AHC instructed him to intentionally hide information from investigating HUD auditors.

Most interesting to me was information about a Consumers Rights League (“CRL”) June report, "ACORN's Hypocritical House of Cards."
You can get to the report via the CRL website.

I wrote about the right-wing’s accusation of extortionist activities on the part of ACORN. The report offered a refined statement of the charge together with an accompanying presentation illustrating ACORN’s “Business Model” from “Former ACORN Organizer and University of Georgia Professor Fred Brooks” (Click on graphic to enlarge)

From the report:

"ACORN's business model involves choosing a corporate target, attacking it, reaching a financial settlement, and then beginning the cycle again with a different target. The organization's own manifesto says: "ACORN's lifeblood is conflict with targets outside the organization," according to an internal document. This strategy has been very effective in the case of mortgage lenders. A magazine sympathetic to ACORN notes dryly, "AHC exhibits a unique ability to develop relationships with institutions, including some with which ACORN was previously in conflict."

Ergo, thinking about it this way, if ACORN’s final goals in launching an attack on a corporate target are a partnership and money for organizing then ACORN has much in common with a parasite- It never wants to kill the host; it wants the host to live so it can coexist with it. Ultimately, it adopts the host's goals as its own.

What that would mean is that in making its judgements about something it has attacked, ACORN would not be asking whether something bad should end, or whether there is a balance that should be struck. ACORN would always stop short of ending a bad thing or striking a proper balance if it would kill the host or partnership opportunities.

The report alleges that, having attacked bad lending practices, ACORN by virtue of such partnering strategies thereby hypocritically promotes them. How much a lot of this may mean may depend on the stock you put in allegations made by the Consumers Rights League.

I can’t say whether what is alleged is true in other contexts. I observe that, in the case of Atlantic Yards ACORN’s alleged “Business Model” model fits.

On the same day MarketWatch put up the the CRL release, the Wall Street Journal published another updating story dealing with some of the same concerns as the foregoing release: It similarly notes that ACORN is likely to be one of the biggest likely beneficiaries of the housing bill signed Wednesday which “provide a stream of billions of dollars for distressed homeowners and communities and the nonprofit groups that serve them.” It also mentions the embezzlement and deals with the concerns about “giving federal funds to an organization that does political work” and mentions the difficulty of tracking ACORN's finances because of its “group of legally separate offshoots, nearly all of which use” the same address. (See: Democratic Ally Mobilizes In Housing Crunch, Acorn Leads Drive to Register Voters Likely to Back Obama; New Federal Funds) Also, as I did when I wrote before, the article brings up in analogous terms provision of money for activities at the other end of the political spectrum such as funding for faith-based initiatives to churches and religious groups rallying Republican voters. About the just signed federal bill the WSJ article quotes Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank as saying "We have a lot of restrictions in the bill" banning using the housing money for lobbying. It credits Frank with having secured, from his seat as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, the $4 billion Affordable Housing Trust in the federal bill for grants that can flow through organizations such as ACORN.

It is reported that conservatives are citing the CRL report to ask for a hearing on ACORN’s comingling of funds. As reported, the request is likely also influenced also by the WSJ’s reporting on ACORN's efforts to register Democratic voters and lobbying or the housing bill (See: Conservatives want ACORN hearing, July 31, 2008 ) This report quotes Barney Frank’s counter that if these Republicans "think there were incidents of abuse, they should go to the IRS."


One last question the article has me thinking about. The MOU and CBA are signed by ACORN (not AHC) and one provision states “Developer and ACORN will work on a program to develop affordable for-sale units, . . . It is currently contemplated that a majority of the affordable for-sale units will be sold to families in the upper affordable income tiers.” Given the need to keep political activity distinct in the various contexts where funds can be collected, is ACORN fully eligible to work on the “program” it is contracting to?

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