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ACORN’s Collection Plate Money

Group Sought New Voters in Swing States With Church Money

BY JEFF GARDNER

October 26-November 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/21/08 at 10:04 AM

 

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 organization’s attention.

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 bishops’ appeals.

“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 voters

Pennsylvania — 153,898 new registered voters

Florida — 151,812 new registered voters

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 Ohio’s registrations.

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, “like ACORN.”


Fraud

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 Register.

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.”

Jeff Gardner is CEO of CatholicRadioInter

national.com. jgardner@catholicradiointernational.com