10 Questions for ACORN’s ‘Independent’ Investigator

Posted by Geoff Embler on September 24th, 2009

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) this week appointed former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger (D) to conduct an ‘independent’ investigation into recent allegations of potentially criminal activity by employees of the troubled organization.  Those accusations spurred the U.S. Census Bureau and Internal Revenue Service to terminate their relationships with ACORN.  The House of Representatives, led by the efforts of House Republicans, also overwhelmingly passed the Defund ACORN Act as an amendment to legislation providing for a government takeover of student lending.

As if the news about ACORN in the last few weeks has not been troubling enough, a look back at an October 2008 Pennsylvania injunction hearing against ACORN provides even more reasons why the House must have a stand-alone vote on the Defund ACORN Act so that Democratic leaders sympathetic to ACORN cannot hold the Defund ACORN Act hostage to a government takeover of student loans.

The injunction hearing included testimony from former ACORN employee Anita Moncrief, who worked in the group’s Washington, DC, office and had first-hand knowledge of its operations and offered a disturbing look at how ACORN works.  Based on testimony from the hearing, here are 10 questions for ACORN’s new ‘independent’ investigator to answer:

1. IS THERE ANY DISTINCTION BETWEEN ACORN AND ITS AFFILIATES, OR ARE THERE DIFFERENCES IN NAME ONLY?

Moncrief testified that “Project Vote is a sister organization of ACORN.  When I got there, I actually thought I was working for ACORN because that was the only thing I heard about during the interview.  But when I got there, I realized that I was working for Project Vote, and they explained to me the difference between the two organizations.  But as I was there, I learned there wasn’t much of a difference.”  Moncrief also said that “[h]onestly, there really isn’t a difference between Project Vote and ACORN except for the fact that one is a 501 (c) (3) and one is not a (c) (3).  As far as the – who does the voter registration work and how things get done, their – Project Vote is basically considered ACORN political operations.”

Moncrief also testified when asked if there was active cooperation between ACORN’s political wing and Project Vote that “… we’re considered basically the same staff.  Nathan Henderson James was the strategic writing and research department – he was that director.  And then at the same time, he was research director for Project Vote.  Zach [Polett] was the executive director of Project Vote and the executive director of ACORN political.  All of the organizations shared the same space.  It was only starting in 2007 where I started to see a real division between the organizations where they were like, okay, you’ve got an ACORN address; let’s give you a Project Vote e-mail address.  Try to – they put a door up to keep the D.C. national side – I’m sorry, the D.C. local and the national side separate from Project Vote so it looked like it was two separate offices.”

Moncrief testified that ACORN entities that are forbidden by law from engaging in political activities because of their tax status do in fact engage in political activities “[b]ecause there’s no separation between the organizations for real.  So when you have the same people that are working, that are – like, I was getting paid through Project Vote’s checkbook, but I was working on ACORN stuff.  I even did PowerPoints during the midterm elections for Jeffrey Robinson where they were like, okay, don’t vote for [then-Rep.] Albert Win (ph) [sic, Wynn (D-MD)] or vote for this person.  And they had doorknob – door hangers that they would go and put on people’s doors, and we turned this into a PowerPoint presentation.  So there was never any division between the staff where you could say, okay, this is [501] (c) (3) stuff and this is (c) (4) stuff.  It was just — I don’t want to say business as usual, but it was a lot of collaboration between the organizations.”

Moncrief also testified that “[t]hey wanted to keep the – I think the word was keep the 501 (c) (3) pristine and keep that clean and separated from everything else because we needed that.” When asked if ACORN actually did that, Moncrief said “[p]ublicly, yes, they always stated that it was two different organizations” but that they weren’t in actual practice and that she was told “let’s hope we don’t get caught.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 18, 22, 44, 89-91)

2. DOES ACORN HAVE AN ACCOUNTING SYSTEM THAT ENSURES THAT TAXPAYER DOLLARS ARE NOT WASTED AND ARE NOT INTERMINGLED WITH OTHER FUNDS USED FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES?

When asked how money flows between ACORN affiliates, Moncrief testified that “[t]he money goes into accounts at CCI [Citizens Consulting Incorporated, ACORN’s for-profit accounting arm].  CCI has dozens – dozens and dozens of accounts.  Some of them are Project Vote.  Some of them are ACORN.” Moncrief also said that CCI is “basically the accounting arm for all of the money, the payments, who gets what, the – how the organization operates and flows and makes sure its bill are paid.  All of that goes through CCI.” When asked how ACORN entities receive money, Moncrief testified that “CCI makes disbursements to them either directly into their account or does transfers between I guess the different organizations.”

In 2007, Moncrief was tasked with reconciling accounts using ACORN’s accounting software called NewVision.  Moncrief testified that “[t]here was, like, a $9 million gap in between what we had in our donor system, Donor Perfect, and what was in the NewVision system.  … There were still some questions because we had a box of stuff we had got from the Ohio office when it closed.  I think it was Ohio.  But there was so many, like, random letters and money and checks that were never cashed that there was – at one point we felt that we had got it as good as it was going to get.”

Moncrief also testified that “[s]ometimes the accounts will show negative a hundred thousand dollars, and then magically the money is in there the next week.  So there’s really no way at this point without a forensic audit to tell what are the assets of any one of the ACORN entities.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 32, 43, 65)

3. HAS ACORN EVER MISREPRESENTED INFORMATION TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT REGARDING A TAXPAYER-FUNDED GRANT?

Moncrief testified that “I received an email.  It was called dotting the Is and crossing the Ts, and it was based on an election assistance commission grant that we had just gotten.  And it was from [ACORN Online Communications Coordinator] Nathan Henderson James and to myself and one other person; I can’t remember the name.  But it was basically telling us, okay guys, it’s reporting time again; we need to show them what we did with this EAC money; so I want you to put this on letterhead – on ACORN letterhead and say something like, we had a really great time working with our partner, Project Vote.  And the attitude of the e-mail was quotation marks, you know — … [t] to where we knew that it wasn’t that there was any type of partner organization.  There might have been – on paper there might have been a partnership going on, but really it was ACORN and Project Vote together.  … It was worked on, but it wasn’t this whole nonpartisan thing that it was made out to be to get the money.  It was just, hey, guys, we need to get this done for Delaware because we just got this check; let’s get this done; let’s make this report out.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 92-93)

4. WILL ACORN IMPROVE THE ACCURACY OF THE VOTER REGISTRATION APPLICATIONS IT SUBMITS AND END THE PRACTICE OF FLOODING ELECTION OFFICES WITH APPLICATIONS AROUND SUBMISSION DEADLINES?

Moncrief testified that ACORN officials were aware that duplicate voter registrations were being obtained by canvassers hired by ACORN, and said that “… they were striving for at one time 40 percent accuracy rate.  So 40 percent was okay.” Moncrief also described the attitude of ACORN officials regarding the practice of “dumping” large amounts of voter registration cards on election offices: “Well, I was told when I was working on the provisional voting survey that they already had a bad opinion of us because we would send so many cards over to them.  So I was to try to sweet talk them, make – they said, make them feel like they’re really helping you, thank them a lot, and if all else fails, tell them that you’re doing a provisional voting academic survey or something.  So I wouldn’t name myself.”

Moncrief also testified that national officials with ACORN and Project Vote were aware of fraudulent voter registrations, and that absentee ballots are sometimes fraudulently voted.  (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 45-47, 70)

5. WILL ACORN END ITS “MUSCLE FOR MONEY” PROGRAM?

In her testimony, Moncrief described two ACORN programs that were both known as “Muscle for Money.” Moncrief said that “[t]he first one is the official program, which is where they calculate the number of – the cost for registering voters, the cost for GOTV, and how close the elections were in certain states.  So it’s basically how CSI [Citizens Services Incorporated, ACORN’s for-profit political consulting arm] works, where they say they get this person to vote, to register this person and get them to the polls, it could cost you $17 and whatever cents; if you go through our program, we have proven methodologies; we know how to get this done; it will cost you this amount.  So there’s actually a CSI chart that breaks down how much it would cost to drive voters to the polls.  And they would use – they would say give us the money, we’re the muscle, we’ll get out there and get it done.”

Moncrief also described a second, “unofficial” ACORN program also known as “Muscle for Money.” Moncrief said that “[t]hey got involved with a group called the Carlyle Group.  They were paid by SCIU [sic, SEIU] to harass a man named [Carlyle Group Managing Director] Mr. [David] Rubenstein, and they wanted me to go out – the D.C. local did, wanted me to go out and break up a banquet dinner, protest out in front of his home.  But the local – D.C. local did not have an invested interest really in messing with the Carlyle Group.  It was because they were paid by SCIU [sic, SEIU] to do this.  And it was always referred to as Muscle for Money because they would go there, intimidate these people, protest.  They did it in front of Sherwin Williams.  They did it at H&R Block, were – H&R Block was a target for years.  And instead of, you know, reforming the way they did the rapid anticipation loans, they ended up giving money to the ACORN tax sites which paid for new computers and money to run these tax filing sites around the country.”

Moncrief testified that ACORN’s unofficial “Muscle for Money” program was known by another name: “Protection.  We were very – not to be flippant, but we were just always very sarcastic about it in the offices.  We knew what was going on.  And it’s not that we thought it was funny, it was just one of those things that we talked about.”

Moncrief also testified that ACORN officials tried to use the voter registration program as a foil to divert attention away from the unofficial “Muscle for Money” program.  Moncrief said “… it was one of those things where if they were going to look at something, they would rather look at voter registration because there was – they’re used to fighting voter registration.  We have prepared responses that everyone was given to say that voter registration fraud doesn’t really happen, voter IDs affect people.  It was certain spiels that we were all given to say.  And at the meeting in 2007, there was actually a conversation about how you can make sure everyone was on the same page of how to respond to that because those responses like, oh, you don’t want African Americans to vote or you don’t want minorities to vote or things where it’s very hard to come back at and they were good at fighting that.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 52, 54-56)

6. WILL ACORN ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ACTIONS OF ITS EMPLOYEES?

Moncrief testified that ACORN employees were given talking points on how to discuss employees accused of voter registration fraud.  Moncrief said that one of those talking points was “… just a lone employee acting alone in doing this and ACORN was going to prosecute them to the fullest.  And most – of anything, it had to do with employee wrongdoing, had something to say in there about how we’re distancing ourselves from them, they did this, let’s get them.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 57-58)

7. IS THE PURPOSE OF ACORN VOTER REGISTRATION DRIVES TO REGISTER NEW VOTERS OR TO RECRUIT NEW MEMBERS FOR ACORN, AND DOES ACORN USE A QUOTA SYSTEM FOR THESE REGISTRATION DRIVES?

Moncrief testified that “[a]t ACORN, it was about getting more members, which means more money.  Project Vote, there’s – actually they’d say the more [voter registration] cards you get, the more money you get.  It’s in the – in the way they train the – I’m trying to explain it; the way they train the people for voter registration.  It’s to let them know that the cards are tied to money.  So the more cards you get, the more money you get.  If people aren’t producing cards, they’re wasting your time, get rid of them, get people who are producing.  … They get – the Project Vote side gets money from certain liberal organizations or – to run these voter registration drives.” ACORN Pennsylvania Political Director Krista Holub testified that voter registration applications distributed by ACORN employees include ACORN membership applications.

Moncrief also testified that ACORN uses a quota system with canvassers during voter registration drives, saying “I’m not exactly sure how many cards per day, but I know that at the minimum, I’ve – I’m aware of at least 20 cards per day” and that if canvassers don’t turn in the minimum amount “[y]ou get fired.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, pp. 23, 29, 148, 165)

8. HOW MANY ACORN AFFILIATES EXIST?

When asked how many ACORN affiliates exist, Moncrief testified that “[t]he number changes all the time.  To the best of my knowledge, it’s got to be at least over 170.  The last number I heard was 176, but that’s constantly changing.” When asked if Project Vote is a separate corporate entity from, but yet an affiliate of, ACORN, Moncrief said “Correct.  They call it the council of organizations.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, p. 26)

9. WHAT DID POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS AND CAMPAIGNS RECEIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR SHARING DONOR LISTS WITH ACORN?

When asked from which organizations Project Vote received donor lists, Moncrief answered “Political parties, some of the campaigns.  … Organizations that did the same type of work, like ACT, America Coming Together.  Those – we’d get those types of lists.” When asked from which presidential campaigns Project Vote received donor lists, Moncrief said “Kerry, Clinton, and the Obama campaign.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, p. 41)

10. DO ACORN OFFICIALS BELIEVE THAT ONE OF THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT ACORN IS THAT IT FIGHTS CAPITALISM?

In her testimony, Moncrief reviewed notes, admitted into evidence, of a regional meeting of ACORN officials.  Included in the notes is a list of reasons the group who met thought that ACORN was “good.” One of the reasons listed was “Fighting capitalism.” (Moncrief testimony, Monica Moyer, et al v. Pedro A. Cortes, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al, In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Docket No. 497 MD 2008, 10/29/08, p. 76)

 

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