September 17, 2009 / 8:48 PM / 11 years ago

US Congress denies funds to scandal-hit activist group

(Adds Senate vote, detail)

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Both houses of the U.S. Congress on Thursday passed legislation that would cut off federal money to ACORN, a scandal-hit liberal grassroots group which has long angered conservatives.

Republicans accuse the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of fraud in registering voters and improperly mixing political and nonpolitical activities. They say it has received $53 million in federal money since 1994.

But Democrats have also criticized ACORN in recent days after conservative activists secretly filmed employees in several cities giving tax and housing advice to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute.

ACORN, which has also suffered an embezzlement scandal involving the founder’s brother, says it fired those in the video and would investigate their actions — but that has not stopped the criticism.

"We have to have our own scrutiny of an organization with an allegation of this kind against it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told a news conference.

The White House has also condemned the video and the Census Bureau said last week it does not want ACORN’s help in next year’s massive population count.

Beyond its voter registration drive, the group promotes affordable housing programs for lower-income people, offers tax counseling and has aggressively fought home foreclosures.

"We’re disappointed that the House took the rare and politically convenient step of attempting to eliminate federal funding for a single organization," ACORN chief Bertha Lewis said in a statement.


She said the move will have little impact because ACORN gets most of its money from supporters.

The ban on ACORN funds took a different form in the House and the Senate, but both indicated that Democrats have little appetite to defend the group.

The legislation that passed the Democratic-controlled House, sponsored by Republican Leader John Boehner, would prevent the government from providing grants, contracts or other federal money to ACORN. It passed as part of a student-loan overhaul.

The Senate measure was not as sweeping. By a vote of 85 to 11, the chamber barred ACORN from access to money in a spending bill that funds environmental and natural-resources programs, after passing a similar measure barring ACORN from housing and transportation funds earlier in the week.

The two chambers must reconcile their legislation before President Barack Obama can sign it into law. House Democratic leaders indicated they were open to including the ACORN ban in the final version of the spending bills.

Republicans say ACORN engaged in widespread fraud during the 2008 presidential campaign with its voter-registration drive in minority communities, which typically support Democrats and ended up voting overwhelmingly for Obama.

As a young lawyer in the 1990s, Obama worked with ACORN and its affiliates on election issues, according to Matthew Vadum of the Capital Research Center, a conservative watchdog group.

ACORN says less than 2 percent of its 1.3 million voter applications were fraudulent and analysts say any actual impact on the election was negligible. (Editing by Alan Elsner and John O’Callaghan)

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