WASHINGTON — Congress has voted to stop funding a controversial social-development group that received millions of dollars from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the past.

Congressional action came after staff of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now were taped offering advice on how to operate a brothel. The group goes by its acronym, Acorn.

There will be no more Catholic money going Acorn’s way, Ralph McCloud, head of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, told the Register. “We have no relationship with Acorn and no intentions of funding them at any level.”

The pair that videotaped personnel at Acorn by posing as a pimp and his girlfriend were James O’Keefe, a Fordham University student who considers G.K. Chesterton his guiding light, and Hannah Giles, daughter of a prominent Miami Protestant pastor.

The duo visited Acorn offices in five cities with their proposal to set up a brothel using underage girls from El Salvador. They received advice on avoiding taxes, concealing their operation as a school and faking information on a loan application to buy a house for the brothel. The videos were shown on YouTube and BigGovernment.com before Fox News network picked them up.

“I thought we’d get some snippets,” O’Keefe told The New York Times. “I’m a skinny nerd, the least convincing pimp in the world.”

Acorn at first dismissed the tapes, with spokesman Scott Levenson saying the “portrayal is false and defamatory and an attempt at ‘gotcha journalism.’”

But as mainstream news media began reporting the exposé, the organization changed its tune. Two employees were fired, and CEO Bertha Lewis announced a halt to all new applications for funds, pending an independent program review and audit. The actions of her own staff caught on videotape by Giles and O’Keefe were “indefensible.”


Congress Dumps Acorn

The scandal climaxed with a vote in the House of Representatives of 345 to 75 in favor of cutting off federal funds for Acorn and an 83 to seven vote in the Senate to the same end.

Lewis expressed disappointment, but claimed most of Acorn’s work to revitalize poverty-stricken inner cities was funded by “its members and other supporters.”

Until last year, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development counted itself among those supporters. It had earmarked $1.13 million in 2008, and then canceled it last year after it was disclosed that Dale Rathke, the brother of Acorn founder Wade Rathke had embezzled almost $1 million from its head office coffers.

Noting that none of the Campaign for Human Development’s funds had gone to Acorn’s head office, Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the USCCB’s subcommittee overseeing the campaign, announced in November that all funding had been cut off months earlier and a forensic auditor hired to track previous disbursements.

The November announcement was triggered by revelations that Acorn workers had registered thousands of fake voters in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election — including Mickey Mouse in Orlando and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys in Nevada.

Bishop Morin, in a November statement, said that the campaign would not fund partisan activities or those contrary to Catholic moral teaching. All Acorn funding had gone to local projects, he added, not the head office.

“Many of these local Acorn groups have done impressive work preventing home foreclosures, creating job opportunities, raising wages, addressing crime and improving education,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said, no funding would go to any groups affiliated with Acorn.


Planned Parenthood

The Acorn exposés were not video producer O’Keefe’s first time in the spotlight. Two and a half years ago he accompanied a UCLA student, Lila Rose, to Planned Parenthood offices, videotaping as she posed as a minor seeking an abortion. Planned Parenthood staff advised her to lie about her age so that her adult boyfriend (O’Keefe) would not be charged with statutory rape.

O’Keefe also made audiotapes of telephone calls to Planned Parenthood in which he asked if he would be able to earmark donations for the abortion of unborn black children.

But those actions did not lead to Congress’ shutting off the flow of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. In fact, since Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy, the Reagan-era rule that prohibits funding of international groups that perform abortions, promote legalizing the procedure or provide counseling about it, the organization has become eligible for even more federal dollars.

Obama said at that time that he also looked forward to “working with Congress to restore U.S. financial support for the U.N. Population Fund.” The Bush administration had witheld contributions to that fund because of allegations that the U.N. agency funded a forced sterilization program in China.

Steve Weatherbe writes from

Victoria, British Columbia.