On Monday, the Senate voted 83-7 to block the Department of Housing and Urban Development from granting funds to ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- the grassroots community organization that has faced a barrage of attacks from conservative activists and Republican lawmakers over the past year.
As the Associated Press reported on the Senate vote to block federal housing and community grants to ACORN:
The Senate's move would mean that 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 outreach.
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, which advocates for low-income families, has suffered a string of public setbacks recently stemming from alleged voter-registration fraud by ACORN employees in Florida and the release of hidden-camera videos from a conservative group showing ACORN employees in Baltimore giving tax advice and house-buying advice to a man posing as a pimp and woman posing as a prostitute. ACORN has said that the Baltimore videotape was edited, doctored and dubbed over, and that the tape also violated Maryland's wiretapping laws.
The conservative Fox News Channel has been a major vehicle for fueling the latest hidden-camera controversy over the past week. In a statement, Bertha Lewis, ACORN's chief organizer, said that Fox News continues to engage in a right-wing smear campaign against the group.
ACORN's Lewis further addressed the aggressive conservative push to discredit the group in a recent statement:
The relentless attacks on ACORN's members, its staff and the policies and positions we promote are unprecedented. An international entertainment conglomerate, disguising itself as a "news" agency (Fox), has expended millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, in their attempt to destroy the largest community organization of Black, Latino, poor and working families in the country. It is not coincidence that the most recent attacks have been launched just when health care reform is gaining traction. It is clear they've had these tapes for months.
We are their Willy Horton for 2009. We are the boogeyman for the right-wing and its echo chambers. If ACORN did not exist, the right-wing would have needed to create us in order to achieve their agenda, their missions, their ideal, retrograde America. This recent scam, which was attempted in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia to name a few places, had failed for months before the results we've all recently seen.
ACORN, which is nationally headquartered in New Orleans, first became a prime target of Republicans and conservative groups last year after the group conducted a massive voter registration effort, registering thousands of African-American and Latino voters, in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election.
In recent months Republicans have become increasingly vocal in criticizing the Census Bureau's ties with ACORN, which was tapped to help with outreach efforts to promote the 2010 count and to boost participation in communities of color. In light of the political firestorm, last Friday the Census Bureau severed its partnership with ACORN.
In a letter to ACORN, Census officials explained: "It is clear that ACORN's affiliation with the 2010 Census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 Census efforts."
ACORN, founded in the South in the early 1970s, has been one of the nation's leading networks of community organizers launching social justice campaigns in working-class communities across the region. What impact the recent bad publicity and potential loss of funding will have on ACORN is yet to be measured, particularly when it comes to what many grassroots leaders call the group's vital advocacy work in low-income communities of color, especially in the South.
Housing advocacy has always been a key component of ACORN's community work, and the federal funding was used by the group to provide counseling to low-income families trying to obtain fixed-rate mortgages. Over the past year ACORN has also participated in a nation-wide campaign around foreclosure prevention, helping thousands of low-income residents weather the mortgage foreclosure crisis.
Observers say ACORN has become a popular scapegoat of conservatives because the group has played a critical role in organizing low-income people of color to participate in elections and to push for progressive change. The Senate vote is the third time this year that Republicans have tried to end the organization's eligibility for federal funding, according to the Wall Street Journal.
"We're disappointed that the Senate took the rare and politically convenient step of supporting eliminating some federal funding for a single organization, one that has been the target of a multi-year political assault stemming variously from the Bush White House, Fox News, and other conservative quarters," Lewis said in a statement.
According to ACORN, the Senate's action was disappointing but would have little impact on its overall operations because the group derives most of its income from its members and other supporters. "The only real victims of today's vote are the families who have benefited from ACORN's important work," Lewis said.