« inequality in online civic engagement | Main | positioning an academic argument »

July 10, 2008

the ACORN scandal

I was amazed to read that a senior official at ACORN ("the nation’s largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people") embezzled nearly $1 million in 1999-2000. Instead of being fired, he was reassigned and asked to pay the money back on a generous installment plan: $30,000/year. No one was told what he had done, not even the board. This man happens to be the brother of the organization's founder.

I think about the times I gave money to ACORN when canvassers in my neighborhood played on my guilt. I was always reluctant or ambivalent. I didn't (and still don't) have the full picture of how ACORN operates. I acknowledge my limited understanding and don't see myself as an informed critic. But there were times when the organization seemed to make poor people look like sheer victims, instead of developing and celebrating their agency. ACORN seemed to divide the world into the victims, their protectors, and their enemies, which is not a way to learn from other people or build communities.

Now we read that millions of dollars of contributions were actually paying for embezzlement and a cover-up. Founder Wade Rethke "said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a 'weapon' into the hands of enemies of Acorn .... 'We thought it best at the time to protect the organization, as well as to get the funds back into the organization, to deal with it in-house,' said Maude Hurd, president of Acorn."

This was obviously a mistake. Ethically, it meant putting the interests of the staff and the organization ahead of the donors and people served. Practically, it was foolish because the scandal had to come out, sooner or later. It reflected the division of the world into heroes and enemies that I mentioned above. It also presumed that the heroic ACORN was indispensable, so that any embarrassment to the organization had to be avoided at all costs. No organization is above reproach, none can be allowed to police itself, and none is indispensable.

Even today, the ACORN website makes no mention of the embezzlement. Recent news items highlighted on its home page include: "Landmark ACORN Foreclosure Bill Becomes Law in California" and "ACORN Helps Launch $40 Million Healthcare Campaign Nationwide." An apology would help, although for me personally, it is too late.

[Update, July 11: ACORN now has a formal apology, which they sent to me.]

July 10, 2008 9:16 AM | category: none


This latest embezzlement scandal is just a single instance in what has become a troubling pattern of behavior by ACORN. The Consumers Rights League, which recently released a whistleblower report on ACORN's misuse of taxpayer dollars, issued the below statement in response to the article, renewing its call on Congress (and specifically, Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank) to initiate an investigation into ACORN.

CRL has also put together a backgrounder that includes facts about the ever-expanding spectrum of ACORN's illegal activities: its commingling of government funds for political purposes, its rampant voter registration fraud, and now this latest embezzlement scandal.

Read both at www.consumersrightsleague.com.

July 10, 2008 3:45 PM | Comments (1) | posted by aeDC77

Site Meter