By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A supposed pimp, prostitute and several undercover videos are causing Colorado lawmakers to rethink and, in one case, take action against a liberal-leaning anti-poverty group.
While dressed as members of the illegal sex trade, two conservative activists armed with a hidden camera asked employees of ACORN for tax advice for their illegal operation.
ACORN is the nation’s largest grassroots community organization of low-and moderate-income people, as well as longtime enemy of Republicans.
In four of the ACORN offices — New York, Washington, California and Maryland — the employees indulged the requests. The ACORN employees were promptly fired after the videos leaked to the public.
Although the comments made on the videos are “deeply disturbing and appalling,” they aren’t representative of ACORN as a whole, according to Ben Hanna, Colorado ACORN’s head organizer.
“They ended up being able to dupe some staff into saying some really stupid things,” he said. “The advice that they gave was completely inconsistent with our staff policies and, more importantly, our values.”
Regardless, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., is cosponsoring upcoming legislation that would cut all federal funding for ACORN. The measure will follow up on the Senate’s Monday vote that banned ACORN from receiving federal money from the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
“I think clearly if it was just an isolated incident of a hidden camera ‘gotcha thing’ it would be different,” said Coffman spokesman. “But it’s not; this was a hidden camera in four difference incidents.”
An analysis from the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., claims the organization has gotten more than $53 million from federal agencies over the last 15 years. GOP aides said that total “does not count the untold millions more that ACORN has received indirectly through state and local agencies that receive federal block grants.”
Brian Kettenring, an ACORN spokesman, said that the majority of the federal money went to the ACORN Housing Corp. for its work on first-time homebuyer counseling and, more recently, foreclosure prevention, according to Reuters.
Colorado Democrat Rep. Betsy Markey’s office said the lawmaker will more closely review any grant requests from ACORN that come to the House floor in light of the recent scandal. The office of Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the congresswoman believes that “any entity seeking federal funding should be subject to vigorous oversight, including ACRON.”
Hanna isn’t particularly worried about losing federal funding. The Colorado ACORN office gets most of its revenue from supporters, he said.
“The decision will have little impact on our overall operations here in Colorado,” he said. “The only real victims today are the families that have benefited from ACORN’s work.”
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak, who is prohibited by campaign finance laws from working or knowing the daily operations of groups like ACORN, said people shouldn’t rush to judgment on the embattled organization. The former Peace Corps volunteer said community organizing groups as a whole are good for the country because they reach out to communities that normally don’t have a voice.
Hanna echoed Waak’s comment. He pointed out that Colorado ACORN over the last few years has helped more than 2,000 people file their income taxes for free, aided hundreds of people with foreclosure prevention efforts and helped register tens of thousands of low and moderate income people to vote.
“These are all vital services and we’re going to continue to do that good work,” he said.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters