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The U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development aggressively funded the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now as it undertook new voter registrations — mostly in states that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama needs to win.
BY JEFF GARDNER
LAS VEGAS — The U.S. bishops’
Catholic Campaign for Human Development aggressively funded ACORN as it
undertook new voter registrations — mostly in states that Democratic presidential
candidate Sen. Barack Obama needs to win.
ACORN is the acronym for Association
of Community Organizers for Reform Now. ACORN is currently under federal
investigation over allegations that it has engaged in voter registration fraud
in several states.
The Register’s research revealed
that the bulk of new ACORN voters were registered in electoral swing states,
like Ohio and Michigan, while larger states received only a fraction of the
Starting in 2007 as ACORN ramped up
its voter registration drive, the Catholic Campaign also ramped up its support
for ACORN, awarding ACORN 37 grants totaling at least $1,037,000 — more than
double the dollar amount in any one of the previous three years.
In June 2008, the Catholic Campaign
authorized $1.2 million in grants, according to a memo obtained by the Register
and issued by Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the Catholic Campaign
subcommittee. The memo says 38 ACORN groups were set to receive the money.
Ralph McCloud, Catholic Campaign for Human Development executive director, said
he did not know what accounted for the higher funding levels.
The 2008 grants were put on hold
this summer due to a separate ACORN scandal unrelated to voter fraud. Bishop
Morin confirmed to the Register that all Catholic Campaign contributions to
ACORN are now on hold.
Founded in 1970, the Catholic
Campaign receives money from Catholics across the United States, mostly through
second collections at the parish level or diocesan moneys budgeted from
“The Catholic Campaign for Human
Development is the domestic anti-poverty, social-justice program of the U.S.
Catholic bishops,” the U.S. bishops’ website says.
McCloud told Catholic News Service
that “some of the funds that the Catholic Campaign contributed to ACORN in the
past “undoubtedly were used for voter registration drives.”
Since 2007, ACORN focused on 18
states, but registered most new voters in:
Ohio — 247,335 new registered voters
Michigan — 215,470 new registered
Pennsylvania — 153,898 new
Florida — 151,812 new registered
These states are the target of much
political activity because they are rich in electoral votes and are known to
“swing” between backing Democratic candidates or Republican candidates.
Does that level of activity in key
battleground states for the coming 2008 presidential elections seem partisan?
California’s population is more than three times Ohio’s. But in California, a
safe Democratic state, ACORN registered only 39,570 new voters — a fraction of
McCloud told the Register that it
didn’t seem partisan to him. “ACORN would make applications for places where
they found low-income communities,” he said.
He told the Catholic News Service:
“The whole idea is making sure that the efforts of the groups we fund are
working in nonpartisan efforts and focusing on the kind of work that we would
like for them to do.”
However, ACORN’s close
identification with the Democratic Party is an open secret. The Catholic News
Service’s Oct. 16 article describes the group as “traditionally drawn to causes
usually backed by Democrats.”
When Sen. John McCain spoke at the
Archdiocese of New York’s Al Smith dinner, he referenced the fact that most
media professionals are registered Democrats by referring to ACORN. “We all
know the press is really an independent, civic-minded and nonpartisan group,”
the Republican presidential candidate said sarcastically, with a comedic pause,
ACORN’s voter registrations have
also fallen under a black cloud due to voter fraud accusations.
McCloud told Catholic News Service
regarding Catholic Campaign funding: “It probably was” used for voter drives,
“but by the same token, we didn’t find any voter registration irregularities,
the allegations we are finding now.”
Concerns over ACORN’s voter
registration practices did not just emerge in 2008. Dating back to 1998, ACORN
employees and those working for affiliate organizations like Project Vote have
been either indicted or convicted of submitting false voter registration forms
in some 14 states. McCloud told Catholic
News Services that the Catholic Campaign has funded ACORN for the last 10 years
to the tune of some $7.3 million.
ACORN’s voter registration efforts
beginning in 2007, however, were unprecedented. In 2007 and 2008, across 18
states, ACORN and its affiliates have registered some 1.3 million new voters.
ACORN officials are defending the
organization’s voter registration practices.
“We are proud of this voter
registration effort,” Charles Jackson, communications director for ACORN, told
The organization itself checks the
voter registration cards it processes, he said. “Wherever we have questionable
cards, we turn them in to the election official,” said Jackson.
On Oct. 16, the Associated Press
reported that the FBI is investigating ACORN in eight states.
Voter fraud allegations broke when
Nevada state officials seized the records of the Las Vegas ACORN office.
Jackson said, “Initially, we called the move a political stunt by state
officials because we had been working with them all along and providing them
with the information they needed.”
The Register has obtained a copy of
the sworn affidavit used to secure the search warrant used by Nevada officials
in seizing the Las Vegas ACORN office.
In it, the criminal investigator
with the Nevada Secretary of State makes clear that ACORN was firing some 10
employees a week for fraudulent work and knowingly employed several felons to
collect voter registrations.
But whether you object to partisan
registrations or voter fraud allegations — or both — the bishops are stressing
that Catholic Campaign funding of ACORN has stopped.
“We’re not funding them,” McCloud
told Catholic News Service, “at any level.”
Gardner is CEO of CatholicRadioInter