The political firestorm surrounding the group known as ACORN came to a head last week when both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to cut off federal funding for the organization. ACORN (which stands for the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) faced criticism from across the political spectrum after employees in four different offices were secretly recorded giving tax advice on how to set up a brothel with child prostitutes to journalists posing as a pimp and a prostitute.
ACORN has traditionally advocated for low-income communities, encouraged voter registration and assisted the government in conducting the census. It also offers tax and foreclosure assistance to low-income individuals, and works on a variety of other social issues.
The recent actions of the employees caught on tape are beyond reproach, and ACORN has since fired several of them. ACORN also stopped accepting new clients into its programs and on Tuesday announced that the former Attorney General of Massachusetts will conduct an independent investigation and audit.
Since ACORN employees acted improperly at four separate offices, we understand the strong impulse to cut off federal funding to the entire organization. Nonetheless, the outcry in the national political scene and national media does not tell the full story.
The ACORN office in Providence was not among the four offices where the hidden camera footage was filmed. Since May, the local ACORN chapter has installed smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers in 400 homes. And last year, ACORN offered tax assistance to roughly 200 low-income Rhode Island residents. As a result, these residents received a net total of over $500,000 in tax rebates.
Given these facts, we are disappointed in Governor Carcieri '65 for going along with the prevailing national attitude and adopting a harsh stance towards ACORN. Last Friday, Carcieri ordered all state agencies to cease any payments to the Rhode Island chapter of ACORN and asked the state board of elections to investigate if ACORN has used taxpayer money illegally to support a political agenda.
Mimi Ramos, Regional Head Organizer for ACORN Massachusetts and Rhode Island said that the organization does not receive any state funding in an e-mail to the board. Carcieri's office, however, would not confirm this.
The Rhode Island ACORN chapter is not the only local ACORN operation to fall prey to empty political posturing. In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal '91.5 issued a similar order barring state funds to ACORN, while the Louisiana State Division of Administration acknowledged that the state had no existing contracts with ACORN. It is unfortunate that Carcieri did not use this opportunity to distinguish the local ACORN chapter from the handful of employees at other ACORN chapters that have embarrassed the organization. We hope that the state will pick up the slack while ACORN curtails its services. If Carcieri's investigation does not reveal any wrongdoing, we hope the governor will publicly acknowledge that the Rhode Island ACORN chapter was not involved in any of the scandals surrounding other chapters.
Organizations that receive taxpayer dollars should be subject to a high level of scrutiny. At the same time, an organization that helps low-income citizens should not be reduced to a political punching bag as soon as controversy erupts.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)browndailyherald.com.