GOP: Cut ACORN's government fundingBy THOMAS MAIER AND JAMES T. MADORE
September 16, 2009
Prominent Republicans Tuesday called for a cutoff of government funding to ACORN, the nationwide antipoverty advocacy group, because of allegations of unethical activities by its workers in three offices.
The controversy erupted locally after two ACORN employees in its Brooklyn office were shown on a hidden-camera video apparently advising a couple posing as a prostitute and her pimp to lie about her profession and launder her earnings. The videos - which ACORN says were doctored for political purposes - were publicized by a conservative Web site and aired on Fox News. Similar encounters in Baltimore and Washington led to the firing of four ACORN employees.
In the State Senate, Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called for a halt of any state funding to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the affiliated New York Agency for Community Affairs, and other groups doing business with them. "The possibility that our tax dollars are being misused for potential criminal activities must be investigated and the flow of tax money must be stopped," Skelos wrote in a letter asking Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to freeze all funding to the group.
ACORN and its affiliates were slated to receive about $500,000 in the 2009-10 budget, largely through grants from the legislature's Democratic majorities to aid homeowners facing foreclosure. No funds have yet been allocated, the comptroller said.
A source familiar with ACORN's state funding said Cuomo would not approve new contracts until the conclusion of a separate criminal probe by the Brooklyn district attorney.
Meanwhile in Congress, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) joined other GOP leaders Tuesday in sponsoring legislation that would sever ties between the federal government and ACORN. Some Democrats also distanced themselves while the group is under scrutiny. "The behavior of some ACORN staffers is threatening its legitimate foreclosure prevention and housing services," warned Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) in a statement. "I will judge future funding on transparency and accountability at ACORN."
ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson blasted the video shot at the organization's Brooklyn office, saying the group believes the voices of the couple were dubbed over to alter the conversation and make the interaction appear more objectionable than it may have been. The two employees featured in the video have been suspended, he said.
ACORN has offices in Hempstead and Central Islip, neither of which were apparently involved in videotaped encounters. "In New York we have great support," said Levenson, pointing to the group's efforts to help low-income families avoid foreclosure on their homes. On Monday, the U.S. Senate voted 83-7 to block any federal housing grants from going to ACORN, while House GOP leaders asked the IRS to curb ACORN's involvement in tax preparations among poor and low-income people. Sen. Charles Schumer voted for the block while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was one of seven who voted against it.
Other Democrats defended ACORN. Rep. Yvette Clarke, (D-Brooklyn), whose district includes the Brooklyn office where one of the videotaped encounters took place, said the "unethical lapses by a few is being used as a tool to undermine all the good that they have achieved over the years."
In Nassau County, Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said, "I don't condone any criminality or bad apples, but my experience with them has been positive and they've done a lot of public good in the community."
With wire service reports