ACORN’s Catholic Money Tree

The longstanding links between the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CHD) and the left-wing activist group ACORN continue to grab the media spotlight.

This week, Associated Press and CNN were among the major media outlets to report the news that the U.S. bishops have ended all CHD funding for ACORN (short for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

Last month, as allegations of massive voter registration fraud by ACORN surfaced in the context of the U.S. presidential campaign, CHD announced that it had suspended its plans to give more than $1 million to ACORN this year. But one of the unanswered questions in the ACORN scandal is how exactly it might have profited the “community organizing” group to knowingly submit thousands of bogus voter registrations in a number of states, as it allegedly did in the current election cycle.

After last month’s disclosure that ACORN is under criminal investigation over the matter, ACORN’s supporters vehemently insisted that this sort of voter registration misconduct could never give rise to any actual voter fraud. According to these defenders of ACORN, no one would try to actually vote using one of the fake registrations as they often featured obviously bogus information such as names like “Mickey Mouse” that inevitably would attract the attention of authorities.

The Daily Blog has no idea whether this defense holds water. But let’s assume for the moment that it does. If so, what incentive other than generating fake votes might ACORN have had to submit false registrations?

How about this for a possible explanation: ACORN was partly motivated to inflate the numbers of voter registrations it was generating in order to justify continuation of the millions of dollars in Catholic contributions ACORN has received over the last decade via CHD. Supporting this possible motive is the fact, first reported by the Register last month, that CHD’s annual donations to ACORN jumped dramatically in 2007 at precisely the same time that ACORN ramped up its voter registration drive.

Suggesting such a depth of mercenary cynicism within ACORN might seem unduly harsh.

But given recent ACORN history, which saw the organization keep Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, on the ACORN payroll for years after the group knew he had embezzled nearly a million dollars from ACORN in 1999 and 2000, a money motive doesn’t seem at all outlandish. In fact, it was the disclosure in June of the cover-up of Rathke’s embezzlement that prompted suspension of CHD funding to ACORN, not the subsequent allegations of multi-state voter registration fraud.

A forensic audit being undertaken by CHD of its funding of ACORN might help to disclose the motive for the alleged voter registration fraud. But whatever eventually comes to light, the ACORN affair already has prompted prominent American Catholics such as Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things, to question the continued existence of CHD itself.

Father Neuhaus notes in this article that since its creation “in the ideological climate of the 1960s,” CHD has never directly supported Catholic charitable activities that aid the poor. It has concentrated instead on funding politically active groups such as ACORN that often support agendas like abortion rights that are in conflict with basic Church teachings.

Said Father Neuhaus, “What most Catholics don’t know, and what would likely astonish them, is that CHD very explicitly does not fund Catholic institutions and apostolates that work with the poor.”

And all of this attention couldn’t come at a worse time for CHD, with its annual collection in Catholic parishes scheduled for later this month. Under these circumstances, lay Catholics can scarcely be faulted for asking themselves whether they should place any money on this year’s CHD collection plate.

— Tom McFeely