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ACORN and Your Money

Watchdog Says ACORN Received More than $48 Million Over 5 Years

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ACORN protest

Members of the activist housing group ACORN protest in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Updated June 21, 2011

How much taxpayer money did ACORN get?

ACORN, a controversial grassroots group that advocates for better housing and wages for low-income families, received more than $48 million in taxpayer funding from 17 federal agencies in 2005 through 2009, according to a government watchdog agency.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and several related organizations received the federal money in the form of federal grants, primarily to assist poor families who were going through housing foreclosure, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The level of taxpayer spending on ACORN, disclosed in June 2011, came before Congress voted in to cut off federal funding for the group amid allegations of voter fraud and other questionable behavior by ACORN workers.

Criticism of ACORN

ACORN came under intense scrutiny from conservative activists and lawmakers in 2009 after evidence surfaced that employees of the group had fraudulently registered non-qualified voters in several states.

In addition, video footage from a Baltimore, Md., ACORN office showed community counselors advising people posing as a pimp and a prostitute on how to get a mortgage loan to open a brothel.

The controversies led directly to Congress voting, in September 2009, to cut off federal funding for ACORN, a move whose constitutionality was challenged but ultimately upheld by a federal court.

ACORN Vindicated

The Government Accountability Office, which was asked to investigate the outcome of allegations against ACORN, found that most of the cases actually went nowhere.

"Of 22 investigations and cases of election and voter registration fraud and wage violations involving ACORN or potentially related organizations from fiscal years 2005 through 2009, most were closed without prosecution," the agency reported.

The Department of Justice won guilty pleas from eight defendants facing charges of voter registration fraud, but most of the agency's investigations of ACORN were closed without action due to insufficient, or a lack of, evidence, according to the GAO.

In addition, the Federal Election Commission reported five closed matters; for one, the FEC reached a conciliation agreement with a penalty. Another matter was dismissed, and FEC found no reason to believe the violations occurred for three matters.

The Department of Labor, meantime, identified eight wage and hour disputes among the ACORN organization, and one delinquent reporting of required documentation. ACORN agreed to take corrective measures to comply with the applicable requirements, according to the GAO.

Federal Agencies Slow to Enact ACORN Funding Cutoff

The 2011 report from the GAO was critical of nearly a dozen federal agencies that did not immediately halt funding to ACORN.

"Not all agencies had taken action to implement the funding restriction provisions prior to when we began our review in August 2010," the agency reported. "Eleven agencies reported that they took action to implement the restrictions, at least in part, as a result of our inquiry and subsequent discussions."

Those 11 agencies were the Corporation for National and Community Service; Department of Defense; Department of State; Department of Transportation; Health and Human Services; NASA; National Endowment for the Humanities; National Archives and Records Administration; National Science Foundation; Small Business Administration; and Social Security Administration.

About ACORN

ACORN was founded in 1970 as a grassroots organization to advocate for low-income families. By 2009, the group had 500,000 members and had expanded into a national network of federally funded organization that helped to develop affordable housing, offered foreclosure counseling, and conducted voter registration drives.

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