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ACORN Update (again)

I goofed.

As everyone knows, ACORN does—or did—receive federal grants through HUD and other agencies. This, perhaps not surprisingly, despite a claim on its web site to the contrary:

I relied on this statement, a quick Google search, a look around the Federal Register, and the very questionable claim that there is a difference between ACORN, per se, and ACORN Housing, to state unequivocally—and incorrectly—

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.

The

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New York Times

has now accepted as fact the claim that ACORN has received some $54 million in federal grants since 1994. That claim originates with the

Washington Examiner

, which posted a spreadsheet of its research

. The figure was popularized in large part by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.). I discounted it at first because, frankly, she's insane. She won her seat in part with strong backing by Focus on the Family's James Dobson, despite a gaffe on Chris Matthews' show that found her demanding an investigation of congress members and

.

She also reportedly belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, whose doctrine teaches that the

. She has denied that she herself believes that the Pope is the antichrist.

A few months back, Bachmann inflated the $54 million to a possible $8.5 billion take for ACORN, an outlandish figure that was

. Despite this, Maryland's own Michael Steele used it

.

Anyway, one of the first thing journalism teaches us is that even lunatics are correct sometimes, and I was wrong to dismiss Rep. Bachmann's (and

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The Examiner's

) claims in favor of the apparently fallacious claims of the Hooker Helpers.

So today I finally got around to doing what I should have done before posting last Friday—that is, journalism. As it happens, researching ACORN's money is more complicated than it probably should be, and the available records raise more questions than they answer. But

The Examiner

appears to be in the ballpark.

Here, then, is the condensed results of my foray into ACORN's tax returns (which are, by the way, available to anyone who cares to look them up on Guidestar):

ACORN Institute

(New Orleans.)

2007 return

$1.6 million in government grants. (out of a total 2006 budget of about $2.7 million).

2006 return

Close to $2.3 million in government grants (total budget fiscal 2005: $3.5 million).

The ACORN Institute paid ACORN and ACORN Services (which I could not find listed as a non-profit) a combined $618,000 that year for contractual and personnel services.

Its mission statement: "ACORN Institute addresses problems in low-to-moderate income communities identified in years of community organizing by ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and the housing development and loan counseling of ACORN Housing Corporation. Major focus areas of ACORN Institute currently are on improving financial literacy amongst low- to moderate- income families and also on the needs of the low-to-moderate income New Orleans residents devastated by Hurricane Katrina."

ACORN Housing

(Chicago)

2008 return

Government Contributions = $5.2 million (out of a total budget near $14 million in the 2007 fiscal year).

ACORN Housing paid nearly $500,000 to Citizens Consulting in New Orleans for "administrative services" on a payroll it lists as $4.5 million

2007 return

Government contributions are about $2.8 million (total budget is $9.7 million)

Biggest cost was First American Credco in Poway, Calif.—for credit reporting—$565,000. Citizens Consulting got $239k.

It's mission: "ACORN Housing has offices in 34 cities throughout the United States. Within these cities most of our work takes place in the urban tinderboxes that are often overlooked and forgotten-lower income neighborhoods whose residents are African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and/or recent immigrants from Central America or the West Indies. This includes communities like Flatbush and East New York in Brooklyn; Englewood and North Lawndale in Chicago; and the communities south of the Salt River in Phoenix. It is in these hidden pockets of poverty that ACORN HOUSING has set about the task of reconstruction and authentic renewal."

Acorn International

(New Orleans)

2007 return

No government grants and a total budget in the half million range.

Its mission: "ACORN International is a community-based non-profit organization working in 12 countries across the world. It has local offices in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Canada, and India.ACORN International already has an impressive range of achievements across the world. From fighting for issues such as affordable housing, living wages, provision of water and sanitation, education, and healthcare in Latin America to protecting small local retailers in India from the onslaught of multinational corporate retailers and organizing the slum-dwelling waste pickers in the Indian cities, it has had a string of victories and successes."

Mott Haven ACORN Housing Development Fund Corp.

(NYC)

2008 return

No government grants (budget is about $1.2 million)

ACORN Community Enterprises

(Montgomery Creek, CA)

2008 return

Shows $171,000 in government grants (a budget of about $217,000)

It's mission: "Acorn has encouraged healthy individual and family functioning for the community by providing substance abuse treatment, domestic violence training, child raising, healthy eating and teaching employment skills."

And so on. Guidestar provided 268 results for non-profits with the word "acorn" in their name. In Maryland there were four, and none of them appeared to be connected to the national Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or the Baltimore office of ACORN that the costumed videographers visited.

That's weird. Every non-profit above a certain size is supposed to file a form 990 with the IRS, accounting—however loosely(and they're mostly pretty loose)—for the money raised and spent.

ACORN put out a

claiming it's cleaning up its act.

Its promises an independent review, independent auditor, advisory council, etc.—and, hey, whattaya know—the advisory council includes Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Lt. Governor of Maryland. So that should clear things up.

Says Townsend, in the release:

I e-mailed ACORN's spokesman Brian Kettenring, asking him to clarify why the organization still claims on its web site it gets no federal grants, and to help me understand ACORN's corporate structure or network.

I'll update when he responds.

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