Nonprofit Newswire | October 6, 2009

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ACORN for sale, $835,000
Oct 4, 2009; Don Surber | Reported in a conservative blog, apparently the IRS has hit ACORN with a bill for more than a half million in unpaid payroll taxes. The state AG (Louisiana) apparently filed and then cancelled state tax liens on unpaid payroll taxes, but an investigation cited in another conservative blog notes the AG is seeking information on ACORN and 361 related tax-exempt and non-tax exempt entities.—Rick Cohen

ACORN case sent to DA’s Office: Secretary of state looked at voter drive
Oct 3, 2009; | The conservative filmmakers’ sting against ACORN has opened up a floodgate of investigations into the sprawling organization, including reevaluations of ACORN’s voter registration activities. In San Diego, the government is investigating purportedly duplicate or bogus voter registration forms submitted by as many as 40 ACORN staff. ACORN’s response is that it hired nationally 13,000 people to do voter registration, so the discovery that some people didn’t follow the rules is understandable, as in any organization that would hire that many people for a short term activity like that. The problem, nonetheless, is that the phony pimp and prostitute sting has stimulated and emboldened not critics of ACORN’s problems of accountability and financial management, but ACORN’s politics and mission. The sad result is that ACORN’s troubles could lead to a reduction in its voter registration activities. Maybe they have to be cleaned up and better managed, just as ACORN’s service and intake procedures clearly should be, but voter registration among low-income and minority neighborhoods is critically important. Losing voter registration resources and services would be a sad result of the crisis currently embroiling ACORN.—Rick Cohen

Vegas judge binds ACORN, former employee for trial
Sep 30, 2009; Associated Press | According to a charge in the Nevada courts reported by AP, “ACORN supervisors knew and payroll records showed that [voter registration] canvassers making $8 per hour were paid ‘blackjack’ bonuses of $5 per shift if they collected 21 or more voter registration cards.” These may well be rogue incidents tarnishing the legitimate and legal voter registration activities of other ACORN voter registration staff throughout the nation, but improved monitoring and oversight of temporary staff is difficult in a diffuse management structure. Simplifying and reorganizing some of the ACORN network may be necessary as a corrective measure.—Rick Cohen

ACORN under investigation in California
Oct 2, 2009; San Francisco Chronicle | It’s no surprise that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked the California AG to investigate ACORN for the pimp-and-prostitute sting. In the governor’s words, “I am outraged and deeply concerned by these allegations. If these reports are true, they warrant prosecution under the fullest extent of the law.” AG Jerry Brown has agreed to look into possible illegal activity in ACORN, but also is examining whether the filmmakers violated California privacy laws.—Rick Cohen

ACORN suspends programs in San Jose and East Bay
Oct 1, 2009; Mercury News | Although ACORN was the fourth largest recipient of foreclosure counseling funds distributed by NeighborWorks America last year, NeighborWorks decided not to include ACORN among the 122 groups that received $44 million for counseling services this year. Key observation: “A spokesman for NeighborWorks America, the organization designated by Congress to allocate the counseling funds, said it had “withheld a decision” on whether to grant more money to Acorn Housing while waiting to determine the implications of recent moves in Congress to cut off federal funding for Acorn and Acorn Housing.”—Rick Cohen

ACORN fights to survive amid troubles: Scandals stalk community organization
Oct 4, 2009; Denver Post | All nonprofits have lessons to learn from ACORN’s problems and hopefully the solutions ACORN is able to devise to get past the investigations affecting the organization from top to bottom. Conservative critics have faulted ACORN for its array of nonprofit and other affiliates and subsidiaries, suggesting, as Republican Congressman Issa of California has, that “ACORN hides behind a paper wall of nonprofit corporate protections to conceal a criminal conspiracy on the part of its directors, to launder federal money in order to pursue a partisan political agenda and to manipulate the American electorate.” ACORN dismisses this kind of charge as basically a right wing, blog-generated critique, but the firm that ACORN has long used for some of its legal representation, Harmon, Curran, Spielberg and Eisenberg (a very respected Washington-based firm representing an array of nonprofits), wrote something that hinted at the problem more than a year ago: “ACORN lacks the protective ‘walls’ needed to ensure that various types of activity are kept sufficiently separate. It may be that activities are currently carried out with adequate independence, but without formal policies and separation of staff functions, there are potential liabilities and problems of proof.” Nonprofits with lots of moving parts, affiliates, and subsidiaries have to be careful about how the entities interact, are governed, and track and manage flows of money among them.—Rick Cohen


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