As ACORN is stripped of funds, Collins leads charge for inspection

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 12:23 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The House stripped ACORN of its eligibility for federal funds Thursday, following the Senate’s example. The House vote was 345-75.

The Senate voted 83-7 Monday to block ACORN from receiving grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation voted in favor of stripping the organization’s federal financing.

“ACORN has violated serious federal laws, and today the House voted to ensure that taxpayer dollars would no longer be used to fund this corrupt organization,” said second-ranked House Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia.

ACORN, an acronym for Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, has taken considerable heat and negative media exposure for the past year. Most recently a sting led to video shown by Fox News of ACORN workers in Florida apparently seeking to help sex workers evade taxes to obtain a home loan to start a brothel.

The video was the latest in a series that has already led to the firing of four ACORN employees in Baltimore and Washington.

ACORN said Wednesday that it is ordering its own independent investigation of the incidents, while stressing that they were isolated cases.

ACORN, which also faced allegations of voter registration fraud during the 2008 presidential election, has received more than $53 million in federal grants since 1994.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined forces Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the senior Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to press federal agencies to examine ACORN’s use of federal funds for the past decade and a half.

Collins and Issa sent letters to the inspectors general of HUD, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Small Business Administration, all of which have given funds to ACORN.

In the letter to the corporation, they write that “allegations that ACORN has been inappropriately involved in partisan politics have dogged the nonprofit for years.”

Collins, in a statement, said: “At a time when hard-working American families [are] making tough financial sacrifices, I am appalled by recent reports involving the rampant misuse of taxpayer dollars by ACORN. During the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, congressional oversight into how the public’s money is spent has never been more important.”

Should the groups decide that ACORN misused the federal funds, Collins and Issa urged that they recommend the group be placed on the federal government’s Excluded Parties List System, an official category for “parties that are excluded from receiving federal contracts, certain subcontracts and certain federal financial and nonfinancial assistance and benefits,” according to the system’s Web site.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, cast her vote Monday in favor of stripping ACORN’s federal financing.

John Gentzel, Snowe’s communications director, said, “Given the recent troubling revelations regarding ACORN’s practices and activities, Senator Snowe felt it was prudent to take a hard look at providing federal funding for this organization.”

The Senate voted by way of an amendment to the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. The House attached a rider to the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act which would increase funds for student loans and school repairs and which passed easily Thursday.

While Democrats supplied all the “no” votes in the House, Democrats Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree of Maine supported the measure to cut funding.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a conference call with reporters, called the latest allegations against ACORN “horrible.” However, she pointed out that ACORN has many honest employees and was conducting an internal investigation, and that it was up to House-Senate negotiators to determine whether the provision to cut funding would be in the final version of the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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