It might seem a stretch, but the behavior of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, better known as ACORN, may hold the key to the 2008 elections. The union-backed far-Left network of nonprofit groups, now with 1,200 neighborhood chapters in 110 cities across the U.S., has been involved in a wide range of projects, not all of them on the right side of the law. More than once, Union Corruption Update has reported on recent documented cases of election fraud involving ACORN chapters. That perpetrators on occasion have pleaded guilty is no guarantee of clean hands. At least that’s the message a pair of former U.S. senators, John Danforth, R-Mo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., are trying to convey to the McCain presidential campaign – and to the nation as a whole.
Danforth and Rudman lead an entity called the McCain-Palin 2008 Honest and Open Election Committee. And they’re arguing that honesty and openness aren’t to be taken for granted. “Our mission is to make sure that everybody who is entitled to vote gets to vote without any intimidation, but also that there is no stuffing at the ballot boxes, no fraudulent voting, and also that the rules are the same for everybody,” said Danforth at a September 22 media teleconference. “I mean, one of our concerns is that on Election Day some polling places are kept open for extended periods of time and others are not, and that this is done to help one candidate versus the other.”
Prompting this public-awareness campaign more than anything else is the fact that ACORN, founded in 1970, hasn’t operated like a standard community self-help group. Its founder and longtime chief organizer, Wade Rathke, several months ago stepped down amid revelations that he covered for his brother, Dale Rathke, when the latter, as CFO, nearly a decade ago made nearly $1 million in suspicious transfers from ACORN’s account to that of an allied consulting firm. But it’s during election season when the New Orleans-based nonprofit network’s ends-justify-the-means philosophy has come out in full bloom lately. That’s not to be ignored in light of the fact that ACORN long has been tight with the man who may well become our nation’s next president, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. How close are Obama and ACORN? At one time, he was a director of ACORN’s Project Vote, which has behind much of the mischief of which Danforth spoke. He’s also conducted training sessions for ACORN activists and, as a lawyer, represented ACORN in a suit against the State of Illinois. ACORN’s political action committee, recognizing a natural ally when it sees one, has endorsed Senator Obama.
A skeptic might ask: So what? These things aren’t illegal. Every presidential candidate has a past. What is significant is that during this decade ACORN activists, whether acting on their own or on orders from above, have shown a repeated propensity to engage in phony voter registration and/or ballot schemes in Missouri, Ohio and many other states. Here’s a brief sampling:
Colorado. An ACORN employee admitted to forging signatures and registering three of her friends to vote 40 times in 2004.
Michigan. ACORN has enrolled an estimated 200,000 voters for this year’s elections, many of whose registration forms appear to be either duplicates or frauds, according to a spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.
Nevada. The Clark County (Las Vegas) registrar has pointed to massive voter registration fraud. About 40 percent of all applications submitted by ACORN from January through July of this year have been rejected or questioned.
Pennsylvania. Dauphin County (Harrisburg) officials are seeking the whereabouts of an ACORN worker, Luis Torres-Serrano, whom they suspect of filing more than 100 fraudulent voter registration forms. Currently, he is facing 19 counts of perjury.
Washington State. ACORN activists in the Seattle and Tacoma areas submitted more than 1,800 voter registrations forms during the 2006 election campaign, all but six of which corresponded to nonexistent persons. Secretary of State Sam Reed called it “the worst case of election fraud in our state’s history.” At least three people were convicted on felony charges.
With Barack Obama as the Democratic Party presidential nominee, ACORN has every reason in the world to ratchet up its voter drives. And it’s in the interest of every honest citizen, regardless of political affiliation, to make sure this group stays within the law. “We are concerned that ACORN has been connected with Senator Obama and that he has ties to it,” said Danforth. As the above discussion indicated, “connected” is an understatement. Chicago ACORN leader Madeline Talbot, who once boasted of having used the Community Reinvestment Act to drag banks “kicking and screaming” into making highly risky mortgage loans, hired Obama on several occasions to train her staff. Later, the future U.S. senator would arrange funding for ACORN through a pair of philanthropies: Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the Woods Fund, the latter on whose board he has sat. Obama, of course, is too smart of a politician to give any impression of winking at ACORN vote fraud. But common sense dictates that an Obama Justice Department would pursue potential cases with something less than full vigilance.
Another set of interests would not be clamoring for justice either: organized labor. From the very start, the fortunes of ACORN have been intertwined with those of unions. Wade Rathke founded and remains chief organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100, which represents about 5,000 workers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. SEIU Local 880, representing some 75,000 home workers in Midwestern states, also began a couple decades ago as an ACORN project. ACORN and the unions have worked together in dozens of campaigns – for the most part successful – to enact “living wage” ordinances in cities, counties and universities.
The ACORN-Labor tie is perhaps nowhere as pronounced as in a New York-based political entity, the Working Families Party (WFP). Founded a decade ago by ACORN National Executive Director Steven Kest, the WFP operates out of the same office suite as ACORN’s Brooklyn office. The party’s website describes itself as a coalition formed by ACORN, the Communications Workers of America and the United Automobile Workers. Much of its effectiveness lies in the fact that New York is one of roughly a dozen states in which “fusion” candidates may run for public office; that is, where an office-seeker’s name may appear on more than one party ticket. Hillary Clinton in her first U.S. Senate bid in 2000 was an early beneficiary, appearing on the ballot as the Democratic and Working Families candidate. WFP in 2004 expanded into Connecticut, and plans to make inroads in all other states which allow fusion voting.
Barack Obama’s smooth, engaging style can disguise the fact that he’s a master of Chicago-style hardball politics. For more than 20 years he’s learned from some of the best. His main presidential opponent and Senate colleague, John McCain, would do well to understand that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now will go to any lengths to realize the ultimate prize. He’s getting some good advice from ex-Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman – if he wants it. (Newsmax, 9/22/08; The Union News, 9/30/08; Townhall.com, 9/30/08; other sources).