Congress's Undying (and Less Than Effective) ACORN Funding Ban

The infamous ACORN-defunding language is remembered by liberals, if no one else.

Art consultant John Grant holds an acorn on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 that he carries when he travels.

Art consultant John Grant holds an acorn on Wednesday, April 20, 2011 that he carries when he travels.

Photographer: Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post/Getty Images

Every year since 2009, Congress has added language to must-pass spending bills that prohibits funds from ACORN. For the past four years, ACORN has not existed. Journalists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who ran a hidden-camera sting of the community group, succeeded in killing it, which makes the annual "ban" a strange, vestigial bit of language that's largely just joke fodder for liberals. 

"Great empires rise and fall, rise again," wrote the Huffington Post's Zach Carter in a representatively are-you-kidding-me story about the ACORN language. "Byzantium survives in splendor as Rome collapses before the barbarian hordes. So it has been with ACORN."

There's more to the joke. The language is clear: "None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors." As conservative watchdogs will tell you, plenty of community groups have risen from the graveyard of ACORN.

The problem is that nobody cares. Matthew Vadum, a senior editor at the conservative Capital Research Center, closely monitors the post-ACORN left. He was even mocked by the Daily Show for his efforts. And he can point to suspicious cases of federal monies going to the ACORN refugee groups.

"Judicial Watch reported in August 2013 that HUD Assistant Secretary for Office of Housing Counseling Sarah Gerecke 'may have violated federal law by requesting that $201,222.07 be transferred from the account of the defunct' Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) to a HUD intermediary in Flint, Mich., called Mission for Peace 'to specifically pay for the activities of former AHCOA affiliates,'" Vadum told me via e-mail, linking to the documents. "AHCOA, now disappeared, used to be known as ACORN Housing, the biggest of all ACORN affiliates. Under HUD’s 'grant replacement' rule, unspent grant monies can sometimes be transferred to an entity other than the original grantee. The problem in this case is that Congress passed a law in 2009 barring federal funding of ACORN and its affiliated groups."

There has been no action against Mission for Peace. The Judicial Watch find was covered by Breitbart.com and the Washington Examiner, conservative outlets with big investigative focuses. A Nexis search of Fox News transcripts finds no coverage of the story. In 2013, some Republicans–chiefly the outgoing House Oversight chairman, California Representative Darrell Issa– compared the community activists working as ACA navigators to ACORN. There's just little Republican interest in pursuing leads or proving that ACORN "successors" are getting funds.

Ironically, the congressional investigation of the IRS's 2013 "targeting" scandal revealed that tax officials who monitored nonprofits–the people accused of trying to destroy the Tea Party movement -- were on the lookout for ACORN spawn. They were quietly in agreement with Iowa Representative Steve King, an implacable ACORN foe, who was asking the IRS and FBI to conduct "an all-out, full court press federal investigation" of ACORN legacy groups.

This did little to save their reputations with conservatives. And as ACORN co-founder Wade Rathke told me in an email, it did not destroy the successors of ACORN.

"The purpose of the language is to 'chill' private and public sources and intimidate potential funding," wrote Rathke. "It has not affected ACORN International because we are a dues-based membership organization. Certainly, in these polarized times something of such marginal and specious legality, [it] continues to be problematic, even if it is impossible to prove the negative. If a former ACORN organization is not funded, rarely are the reasons given. But, the work of ACORN in the 20 countries where we are active goes on unabated and unaffected."

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