The California attorney general’s office yesterday found the anti-poverty organization ACORN guilty of no criminal acts. The investigation, which came to the same conclusion as one announced by the New York A.G. last month, was spurred by videos surreptitiously filmed and edited by right-wing activists, promoted by right-wing online media mogul Andrew Breitbart, picked up by the mainstream media and seized upon by Republican lawmakers who had long vilified ACORN as a corrupt criminal enterprise.
California’s Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown was directed to investigate the group by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the wake of the scandal caused by the tapes. Brown gave the activists behind the recordings, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, immunity in exchange for the full unedited video they shot in California ACORN offices last year. Brown’s office found ACORN made plenty of non-criminal mistakes but that the activists had produced leading and partisan “severely edited” material that ruined the organization. Brown reported that the facts “strongly suggest” in making the tapes the two activists violated California privacy laws. Tellingly, Brown adds that the ACORN workers in the tapes may still “bring a private suit against O’Keefe and Giles for recording confidential conversations without consent.”
Brown’s report also links to some of the unedited video, available for the first time, and confirms what many watchers have long suspected: that O’Keefe, who has recently plead guilt to charges related to entering Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans, never posed as a pimp in the ACORN offices. On the contrary, Hannah Giles posed as a frightened prostitute and O’Keefe posed as Giles’ law-student boyfriend who was trying to help rescue her from an abusive pimp. The two told tragic stories to win sympathy from the ACORN workers. They later edited the tapes to make it seem that O’Keefe dressed as a flamboyant pimp to visit the offices and that they had secured illegal assistance in his make-believe criminal enterprise from ACORN. O’Keefe also pretended for the mainstream media that that was what the tapes showed.
From Brown’s report:
The edited O’Keefe videos released on [Breitbart’s] BigGovernment.com website portrayed ACORN as an organization infested with employees committing crimes. However, the impression of rampant illegal conduct created by the recordings at the various ACORN offices around the country is not supported by the evidence related to the videos in California. Our investigation revealed facts which were not reflected in the recordings. The San Diego employee’s answers were influenced by his limited English and intent to contact the police. The San Bernardino ACORN receptionist knew it to be a prank and made outrageous and false statements.
O’Keefe stated he was out to make a point and to damage ACORN and therefore did not act as a journalist objectively reporting a story. The video releases were heavily edited to feature only the worst or most inappropriate statements of the various ACORN employees, and to omit some of the most salient statements by O’Keefe and Giles. Each of the ACORN employees recorded in California was a low level employee whose job was to help the needy individuals who walked in the door seeking assistance. Giles and O’Keefe lied to engender compassion, but then edited their statements from the released videos. Would it have been best had each ACORN employee simply refused to deal with the couple and shown them the door when their story came out? Of course.
The California Attorney General’s investigation “involved attorneys from all three legal divisions – Criminal Law, Public Rights, and Civil Law – as well as Special Agents from the Department’s Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence,” according to the report.
Republican lawmakers reveled in the activist tapes when they appeared as confirmation of their worst suspicions. Republican members of Congress awarded O’Keefe and Giles a Congressional commendation for investigative reporting in the public interest. Rep. Steve King in Iowa said the tapes demonstrated that what was going on at ACORN was “thousands of times bigger than Watergate because Watergate was only a little break-in by a couple of guys… By the time we pull ACORN out by its roots, America’s going to understand just how big this is,” King said. And they did pull ACORN out by its roots: they voted to defund the organization of all federal money, an act that has subsequently been determined unconstitutional. ACORN, strapped for cash, last week announced it was shutting its doors.
In addition to helping low-income Americans secure home loans, ACORN also helped its clients register to vote, a fact that brought it under intense scrutiny from Republicans, who claimed the group was encouraging fraud in order to swell the ranks of Democratic voters. As lefty-blogger and elections system reporter Brad Friedman– who has owned the real ACORN story for months– reports today: “There is no evidence that any vote was ever cast illegally, in any election, following an improper registration by an ACORN worker. In most cases, such improper registrations were discovered by ACORN themselves and reported to authorities.”
Nonetheless, the anti-poverty organization of 400,000 low- and middle-income member families in 75 cities was successfully targeted and put out of business by Republicans; the long, concerted smear campaigns intended to do little more than undercut ACORN’s successful voter registration drives. Those drives had succeeded in legally registering hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income voters, many of whom tend to vote Democratic. For that, for enfranchising Americans to participate in their own democracy, the GOP had to put them out of business.
Friedman has posted a thorough review of the latest developments in the case and links to the unedited videos.