September 23, 2009
ACORN and the AGsBy Mark J. Fitzgibbons
ACORN being called a criminal enterprise. Despite years of warning signs that ACORN was violating the law, many state attorneys general have not investigated the organization or brought enforcement actions. State attorneys general, besides being the chief enforcement officers for violations of state laws, claim unique law enforcement authority over nonprofits.
The reasons for inaction by state attorneys general may explain why ACORN is such a problem. ACORN has developed close ties, to put it mildly, with many state attorneys general as well as others deep in the Democrat establishment. The relationship between ACORN and Democrats may be described as symbiotic.
Democrats have not only provided taxpayer money to ACORN, but have benefited from ACORN's endorsements, its other election-related activities such as get-out-the-vote, and even its litigation on behalf of leftwing policies. ACORN actually considers itself a "partner" with liberal big government on many matters ranging from the United States Census to programs run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
State and local politics, of course, act as feeders for national politicians. Steve Malanga's excellent book, The New New Left explains how ACORN, various unions and other leftwing causes have come to dominate politics in some cities and states, and have relied largely on taxpayer money and ties to Democrat politicians to do so.
The position of state attorney general has become a particularly big feeder, and we see many national politicians who are former state AGs. This begs the question: where ACORN has been violating laws, was it doing so with the imprimatur if not outright assistance of Democrat attorneys general, who seek to curry favor with the Democratic establishment?
That brings us to the importance of ACORN's first scorecard of attorneys general, issued in 2008, "Attorneys General Take Action: Real Leadership in Fighting Foreclosures." The 18-page report and scorecard describes attorneys' general active involvement with ACORN's policy goals on housing.
ACORN graded attorneys general on their efforts to help ACORN's agenda. The issues ranged from supporting federal legislation introduced by such luminaries in the nation's mortgage debacle as Connecticut's Senator Chris Dodd, to using taxpayer money in support of ACORN's litigation and other efforts. The report has pictures and special mention of six attorneys general who received A+ from ACORN.
ACORN's legal efforts have been described as "essentially extort[ing] money from banks." Some of those efforts appear to have more than just a casual link to the subprime mortgage crisis. That of course raises the question of whether Democrat attorneys general have been complicit in ACORN's questionable, unlawful and harmful activities.
Did ACORN's Democrat Ties Retard Law Enforcement?
ACORN has received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding from the federal and state governments. That, itself, raises a host of issues, including opportunities for political corruption on the taxpayers' dime. The ACORN scorecard of attorneys general is an example of taxpayer money being used for what are essentially endorsements of Democrat attorneys general.
An important question that must be asked is, did the ties between ACORN and Democrat attorneys general retard law enforcement? Since attorneys general should have been the frontline of law enforcement against ACORN, but most have already demonstrated an unwillingness to do that job, why should anyone believe at this juncture those AGs will conduct themselves more effectively going forward?
A thorough, professional investigation of ACORN could expose more serious problems linking ACORN and the Democrat establishment.
Weaker investigations, obviously, would benefit and even protect Democrats. Most Democrat attorneys general have ambitions for higher standing within their Party, and will likely not pursue thorough investigations that could hurt their own careers.
Before Democrat attorneys general take up, or are asked to take up, any involvement with investigating ACORN, the attorneys general themselves must answer some tough questions. It is conceivable some AGs could eventually be witnesses in, or subject to, investigations themselves.
Already, though, Republicans at the state level, without demanding answers from attorneys general first, have asked some of ACORN's highest-graded attorneys general to investigate the organization.
ACORN's favorite Democratic attorneys general who have been asked by Republicans to investigate ACORN include: California's Gerry Brown (A), Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal (A+), Georgia's Thurbert Baker (A), Illinois' Lisa Madigan (A+) and Maryland's Doug Gansler (A). Why are Republicans willing to put foxes in the hen house?
Did ‘Spitzerism' Make ACORN Bigger?
Liberal writer Noam Scheiber coined the term "Spitzerism" to describe how now-disgraced Eliot Spitzer used attorney general investigative and litigation powers to bully banks and other corporate institutions. Mr. Spitzer also wielded his power to aid and promote favored liberal causes and entities.
Spitzer's methods encouraged copycat attorneys general, who saw how using (or abusing) the office of attorney general gave them power and special influence within the Democratic Party. Instead of fighting Spitzerism, businesses too often lobbied or cowered, often increasing political contributions in state races. Mr. Scheiber wrote, "[Spitzerism] tapped into a ‘political goldmine' and could ‘help lead the Democrats out of the political wilderness.'"
Mr. Spitzer and ACORN shared a favorite target: banks. (As the old quip about bank robbers goes, "That's where the money is.") Spitzerism was employed to force commercial entities to partner with the Democrat support system. ACORN eventually was "partnered" with CitiMortgage, Bank of America, First American Title Insurance Company, and Fannie Mae.
The list of contributors to the Democratic Attorneys General Association ("DAGA") indicates how seriously the mortgage industry takes the threat of Spitzerism even in the absence of Eliot Spitzer himself.
Mr. Spitzer's successor, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, is one of ACORN's A+ attorneys general.
(Parenthetically: As former secretary of HUD, Mr. Cuomo was successor to another disgraced Democrat, Henry Cisneros. Mr. Cisneros has shown that one ACORN specialty, low-income housing, can be lucrative and influential. Named in 2006 as one of the 50 most influential people in home building, Mr. Cisneros had ties to ACORN when he ran HUD. ACORN's materials describe how:
Mr. Cisneros maintained ties to ACORN after leaving HUD under a cloud. As the mainstream media put it, he most recently "accepted a request" to serve on a six-member advisor board for ACORN. That board has already been subject to ridicule for conflicts of interest and such.)
Mr. Cuomo has a conflict with any ACORN investigation. And Mr. Cuomo's predecessor as AG, Eliot Spitzer, is a prime example of how Democratic attorney generals have used their powers selectively to advance the Democratic agenda, which includes aiding ACORN.
Whether the situation with ACORN will and can expose a vast network of corruption, use of taxpayer money to promote the Democratic Party, and retarded law enforcement, depends on who's looking into it. The ACORN scorecard of state attorneys general should be used, at a minimum, to show which AGs have a conflict in any ACORN investigation.
ACORN's scorecard may even disqualify some AGs. As a starting point of which AGs themselves should be held accountable, attorneys general should be required to disclose, under penalties of perjury, their ties to ACORN, why they did not act sooner, and who may have urged them to lay off ACORN.
Whether partners or puppets, enablers or abettors, some if not many Democratic state attorneys general appear to be involved even tangentially with, or know of, ACORN's questionable activities, if not systemic corruption. Whatever role other Democratic politicians played in ACORN, the attorney general issue presents unique challenges that must be resolved before investigations of ACORN may be considered credible and complete.