WASHINGTON– As legislators streamed into the room around him, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, peered over his glasses at the roughly 60 people who’d come to this special hearing.
“I’m glad to see this turnout so early in the day,” said Smith. (The hearing began at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday) “Today’s hearing is an opportunity for Republicans to move forward on this issue of importance to the American people.”
He was talking about ACORN, the low-income housing and voter-registration activist organization. Although most of Washington’s attention was focused either on the health care debate happening in the Senate or on President Obama’s upcoming speech on troop escalation in Afghanistan, Smith and California Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing was able to attract media. Six cameras were staged around the room and reporters filled out the seats behind the witness stand alongside members of ACORN-investigating organizations like the Capital Research Center and Big Government. Officially titled a “Joint Forum on ACORN,” the hearing gave Republicans a chance to re-air allegations against the group, which lost its long-standing federal funding in two lopsided Congressional votes this past September.
The eight Republican members of Congress who showed up for the hearing didn’t disappoint. With one exception, they labeled ACORN a “criminal enterprise” with close and current ties to the highest levels of the Obama administration and the labor movement. Near the end of the hearing, Iowa Rep. Steve King referred witnesses in search of additional information to a FOX News documentary.
“President Obama previously served as ACORN’s lawyer, participated in ACORN training sessions in Chicago, and presided on the board of two organizations that funded ACORN’s Chicago chapter,” said Smith. An old picture of Obama in an ACORN office was posted near the hearing stand to bolster his point. “The president’s ties with ACORN taint any conclusions the Department of Justice may reach with regard to whether or not to investigate ACORN employees. That’s why I’ve requested that the attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to investigate ACORN.”
To bolster their case, Republicans produced 81 pages of documents about ACORN’s voter registration activities in 2004 and 2006 — a supplement to Issa’s 99-page July 2009 report, “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?”
The 81 new pages, helpfully highlighted by staffers, put ACORN staffers on the record planning voter registration drives and campaigns for “progressive” candidates. They also touched on the organization’s social work — “within the next year Maryland ACORN will conduct 500 new lead tests for low and moderate-income renters and homeowners” — but members and witnesses argued that the organization’s political activity, clearly benefiting Democrats and President Obama, was at least reason to strip it of tax-exempt status.
“The current admin is becoming, in reality, the war room for ACORN’s political machine,” said Issa. “The poor will be better served when ACORN is no longer a go-to place for services.”
Issa kept his case simple: ACORN was intervening in, and tampering with, elections, using “money taken from poor people.” And he spent much of his time tossing friendly questions to Anita Moncrief, a former ACORN employee who has turned into a whistleblower against everything the group did while she worked there. Moncrief said that she joined the group to help the poor; when she decided that they were bilking people who asked for help, and that they were spending too much time assisting Democrats, she bolted.
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