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Friday, December 18, 2009

The ACORN Judicial Watch Forum

Yesterday, the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, held a forum on ACORN entitled, ACORN Scandals, What's Next. The panel included Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation. Spakovsky is a former corporate lawyer and he's been following the legal maneuvers of ACORN very closely. The second panelist was Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center. Vadum is a journalist who's been tracking ACORN closely for more than a year now. He's made a name for himself regarding ACORN doing a lot of detailed analysis and investigation of the multiple affiliates, their tax returns, and attempting to follow the money as it travels through the ACORN universe. The final panelist was Marcel Reid, former ACORN board member, current ACORN D.C. board member, and one of the founders of ACORN 8.

I had a chance to speak briefly with both Vadum and Reid following the event. This was a much more wonky ACORN discussion than most. I spoke with Reid before the event and she was worried about being a part of an ACORN forum that would diffuse into some sort of an anti Obama event that would get off track. Both Vadum and Reid told me that this was not that type of event.

Perhaps, that's why the media largely ignored the event. While several hundred people attended, there was a relatively small number of media there. Unlike the forum held by the Republicans earlier this month, there are very few news reports that came out of this event.

Therein lies the rub. Vadum told me that when he first broke the news that former ACORN staffer, Pat Gaspard, was now a White House staffer, he was immediately in great demand for interviews by conservatives like Laura Ingraham and the like. That's the sort of explosive ACORN charge that will get you noticed.

At it's core though, the ACORN story is actually somewhat boring. After all, much of their criminality is buried in layers upon layers of accounting laws, financial statements, and classifications of tax codes. To try and uncover ACORN's criminality, one needs to know the difference between a 501 (C)3 and a 501 (C)4. Most people don't know the difference and even few care. Yet, that's where most of their criminality lies. It's about what an organization is allowed to do with funds and what ACORN actually does with those funds. If you're going to investigate that, it's likely most people will yawn. If you make a charge linking Obama to ACORN, then you get on every television show in D.C.

A lot of the discussion spent time analyzing the recent Judge Gershon decision that called the ban on federal funds for ACORN unconstitutional. Mr. Von Spakovsky went so far as to characterize the legal argument that made up this decision as something akin to a first year law school student. The decision in fact has ramifications for anyone that receives federal funds. It's probably too simplistic to say that this decision essentially makes receiving federal funds a constitutional right. Still, this decision does put into doubt just how much power of the purse the Congress has. If this decision isn't reversed, then it will be set into precedent and all sorts of folks will argue that it's unconstitutional when their own federal funds are cut off.

The most interesting question was asked about whether not employees knew that they were on projects that were using funds that were comingled and what responsibility an employee has to monitor that. So, for example, let's say that ACORN receives federal funds from the government to work on health care for the poor in New York City, and then, that money winds up going to a radio station that ACORN is working on. Did those working at the station know and do they have a responsibility to know. Reid told me that any and all criminality, in her opinion, was always centered in a small group of top people at ACORN.

To truly understand ACORN, it's exactly these sorts of issues that the individual must understand. ACORN and its affiliates occupy all sorts of parts of the non profit tax sphere. Each part of this sphere, be it a 501 (C)3, 4, etc., has a different set of privileges, responsibilities, and standards of disclosure. Now, the fact that there are all these affiliates with all these different tax codes is itself troubling and problematic. Understanding how each functions and whether or not there's malfeasance going on between them all is difficult and tiresome. In fact, it's dry. It's the sort of thing we normally associate with people with thick glasses and pocket protectors. It was, however, the heart of this recent ACORN forum and it's likely why this forum received scant media attention.

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