Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Infobox Organization
name = Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

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abbreviation = ACORN
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formation = 1970
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type = Non-governmental organization
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headquarters = New Orleans, Lousiana
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membership =
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leader_title = President
leader_name = Maude Hurd (1990-present)
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ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a community-based organization that advocates for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, health care and other social issues. ACORN has over 350,000 members and more than 850 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the United States, as well as in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. ACORN was founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado. [cite web |url= |last=Walls |first=David |authorlink =David Walls (academic) |title=Power to the People: Thirty-five Years of Community Organizing |work=The Workbook |month=Summer |year=1994] Maude Hurd has been National President of ACORN since 1990.

ACORN's priorities have included: better housing and wages for the poor, more community development investment from banks and governments, and better public schools. [] ACORN pursues these goals through demonstration, negotiation, legislation, and voter participation. []

ACORN is made up of several legally distinct parts including local non-profits, a national lobbying organization and the ACORN Housing Corporation. ACORN says it is non-partisan though it is often aligned with the Democratic Party on policy. This political alignment and some of the causes it advocates have made ACORN the subject of partisan conflict. Some of ACORN's voter registration programs have been investigated for fraud. [Las Vegas News-Review Oct. 8, 2008]

Issues and actions

Predatory lending and affordable housing

ACORN has fought against lending practices that it sees as predatory by targeting the companies that engage in the practice, working for stricter state laws against predatory practices, organizing against financial scams, and steering individuals toward loan counseling. Following a three-year campaign Household International (now owned by HSBC Holdings and renamed HSBC Finance Corporation), one of the largest subprime lenders in the country, and ACORN announced on November 25, 2003 a proposed settlement of a 2002 national class-action lawsuit brought by ACORN. The settlement created a $72 million Foreclosure Avoidance Program to provide relief to Household borrowers who are at risk of losing their homes.cite web |url= |title=ACORN Annual Report 2003 |publisher=ACORN |year=2003 |accessdate=2007-11-12] The settlement came on the heels of an earlier $484 million settlement between Household, Attorneys General, and bank regulators from all 50 US states. [cite web |url= |title=Household Finance Settlement |publisher = Washington State Office of the Attorney General |date=2003-12-05 |accessdate=2007-11-12 |archivedate=2007-09-27 |archiveurl=]

ACORN and its affiliates advocate for affordable housing by urging the development, rehabilitation and establishment of housing trust funds at the local, state, and federal levels. [ACORN affordable housing statement] The group also pushes for enforcement of affordable-housing requirements for developers and promotes programs to help homeowners repair their homes and organize tenant demands. [ACORN affordable housing statement]

Living wages

Living wage ordinances require private businesses that do business with the government to pay their workers a wage that enables them to afford basic necessities. ACORN has helped pass local living wage laws in fifteen cities including Chicago, Oakland, Denver, and New York City. [cite journal
author = David Swanson
date = February 21, 2005
title = Federal Minimum Wage 44% Below 1968 Level: Fighting for a Living Wage, State by State
journal = Counterpunch
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-14
] ACORN maintains a website that provides strategic and logistical assistance to organizations nationwide.

ACORN filed a lawsuit in California seeking to exempt itself from the state's minimum wage of $4.25 per hour in 1995. ACORN alleged in its complaint that minimum wage laws "were unconstitutional as applied to it, because they restricted its ability to engage in political advocacy by forcing it to hire fewer workers, and that its workers, if paid the minimum wage, would be less empathetic with its low- and moderate-income constituency and would therefore be less effective advocates." The court denied ACORN's petition; the denial was sustained on appeal. [Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now v. Department of Industrial Relations, 41 Cal. App. 4th 298, 301 (Cal. Ct. App. 1995).]

Katrina relief

ACORN members across the country, particularly in the Gulf region, have organized fundraising and organizing drives to ensure that victims of Hurricane Katrina will receive assistance and will be able to return to affected areas. ACORN's Home Cleanout Demonstration Program has gutted and rebuilt over 1,850 homes with the help of volunteers. The ACORN Katrina Survivors Association formed in the aftermath of the storm is the first nationwide organization for Katrina survivors and has been working for equitable treatment for victims. Displaced citizens were bussed into the city for the New Orleans primary and general elections. ACORN Housing Services have helped more than 2,000 homeowners affected by the storm and is an official planner working with the city on reconstruction. [cite web |url= |title=Two years after Katrina, still fighting and winning |year=2005 |publisher=ACORN |accessdate=2007-11-12] Verify credibility|date=July 2008


ACORN pushes education reform usually in the form of organizing neighborhood groups and "community" or "ACORN schools". In Chicago, ACORN has advocated for a certified teacher to be in every classroom. In California ACORN has documented the need for textbooks and school repairs. ACORN works with teachers unions to get money for school construction and more funding for schools.cite web |url= |title=School Overview |publisher=ACORN |accessdate=2007-11-12] ACORN also supports school reform and the "creation of alternative public schools" such as charter schools. [] ACORN opposed the privatization of some NYC schools, favoring its own Charter School plan. [] The ACORN model for schools emphasizes small classes, parent involvement, qualified teachers and "community oriented curricula". []

Gun control

In 2006, ACORN intervened on behalf of Jersey City, New Jersey in a lawsuit brought against the city, which challenged a local ordinance that limited handgun purchasers to one gun a month. [cite web |url= |title=N.J. Judge Voids City's Gun Control Law |first=Charles |last=Toutant |publisher=New Jersey Law Journal |date=2006-12-20 |accessdate=2007-11-12] The Hudson County Superior Court struck down the ordinance on the grounds that it violated the New Jersey Constitution's Equal Protection clause, and a state statute prohibiting towns and municipalities from enacting firearms legislation. [cite web |url= |title=N.J. Judge Voids City's Gun Control Law |first=Charles |last=Toutant |publisher=New Jersey Law Journal |date=2006-12-20 |accessdate=2007-11-12]

On September 29, 2008, the New Jersey Appellate Court denied ACORN's appeal of the Hudson County Superior Court's decision striking down Jersey City's ordinance. []


1970-1975: Founding

ACORN was founded by Wade Rathke when he was sent to Little Rock, Arkansas by the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) in 1970 as an organizer. [cite journal|first=Sol|last=Stern|journal=City Journal|title=ACORN’s Nutty Regime for Cities|url=|date=Spring 2003|accessdate=2007-01-24] Gary Delgado and George A. Wiley were also instrumental to its founding. ACORN's first campaign was aimed at helping welfare recipients attain their basic needs, such as clothing and furniture. This drive, inspired by a clause in the Arkansas welfare laws, began the effort to create and sustain a movement that would grow to become the Arkansas Community Organizations for Reform Now, the beginnings of ACORN.cite book|last=Delgado|first=Gary|title=Organizing the Movement: The Roots and Growth of ACORN|publisher=Temple University Press|date=1986|isbn=0-87722-393-9|oclc=12134922 59256995]

ACORN's goal was to unite welfare recipients with needy working people around issues of free school lunches, unemployment issues, Vietnam veterans' rights, and emergency room care. The broad range of issues did not stop there as the organization grew throughout Arkansas. ACORN organized farmers to take on environmental issues concerning sulfur emissions.

1975-1980: Growth beyond Arkansas

In 1975, ACORN created branches in Texas and South Dakota. On December 13, 1975, sixty leaders from the three ACORN states elected the first associate Executive Board and the first ACORN president, Steve McDonald, to deal with matters beyond the scope of the individual city and state boards. Each year thereafter saw three or more states join ACORN, building to a total of twenty states by 1980. This expansion led to multi-state campaigns beginning with a mass meeting of 1,000 members in Memphis in 1978. At the end of the conference, ACORN convention delegates marched on the Democratic Party conference with the outline of a nine-point "People’s Platform" which would go on to become the foundation of ACORN's platform when it was ratified in 1979.

ACORN was active in the 1980 Election with the "People's Platform" serving as its standard. [cite web |url= |title=WESTERN HISTORICAL MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION |publisher=UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ST. LOUIS |month=June |year=1980 |accessdate=2007-11-12] It led demonstrations aimed at both major party candidates; demanded to meet with President Jimmy Carter; marched on the president's campaign finance committee chair's home; and presented its platform to the Republican Party platform committee.

1980-1988: Reagan era

By 1980, ACORN’S staff was stretched thin by the demands of meeting its expansion goals. Much of its resources and energy had been dedicated to the presidential primaries and national party conventions. ACORN launched squatting campaigns in an attempt to obtain affordable housing, and encouraged squatters to refit the premises for comfortable living.

In June 1982 ACORN sponsored "Reagan Ranches" in over 35 cities believing the president's focus to be on military as opposed to social spending. These tent cities were erected for two days and were met with resistance from the National Park Service, which tried repeatedly to evict the tenters. The protesters remained and then marched on the White House and testified before a Congressional committee about what they described as the housing crisis in America. The last Reagan Ranch was held at the Republican Convention in Dallas in 1984.

In addition to protesting, ACORN also developed and strengthened its political action committees and encouraged its members to run for office. For the 1984 Election ACORN wanted to endorse a candidate, setting a 75% support in polls among members as its requirement. No candidate reached that level, though there was strong support for Jesse Jackson. ACORN also established a legislative office that year in Washington, DC. During this period ACORN also focused on local election reform in a number of cities, including Pittsburgh, Columbia, South Carolina, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, encouraging the change of at-large legislative bodies to district representation.

ACORN grew to twenty-seven states, adding chapters in New York City, Washington, DC, and Chicago, Illinois by the end of Reagan's first term.

During the 1988 Election ACORN held its National Convention in the same city as the Democratic Convention — Atlanta, Georgia. During the preceding four years ACORN had strengthened its ties with Jesse Jackson and accounted for thirty Jackson delegates. It also sponsored a march at the convention.

ACORN's membership grew to 70,000 plus in twenty-eight states during this time. It increased its legislative lobbying efforts in Washington and strengthened its Politcal Action Committees (PACs). It also developed what it called the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM). Starting with station KNON in Dallas, AM/FM moved on to establish radio stations, UHF television and cable television programming. It also sought and received appointments to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) which was formed to dissolve the assets of failed Savings and Loans resulting from the Savings and Loan crisis.

1988-1998: Focus on housing

While some of ACORN’s most notable efforts were in the area of housing, it has counted health, public safety, education, representation, work and workers’ rights and communications concerns among its victories.

The 1990 ACORN convention in Chicago focused on the fast-breaking housing campaign. It featured a squatting demonstration at an RTC house. Later, ACORN members demanded cooperation from banks about providing loan data on low- and moderate-income communities and compliance with the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

ACORN fought weakening of the CRA in 1991, staging a two-day takeover of the House Banking Committee hearing room. It also established ACORN Housing Corporation to service people moving into homes under the housing campaign, rehabilitated hundreds of houses addressed by CRA.

The ACORN convention in New York in 1992, called the "ACORN-Bank Summit", was organized to make deals with giant banks. When Citibank, the nation’s largest bank, did not participate conventioneers protested at its downtown Manhattan headquarters, and won a meeting to negotiate for similar programs.

ACORN supported and lobbied for the "Motor Voter" Act. After its passage, ACORN members attended President Clinton’s signing ceremony. ACORN then pursued new registration laws in Arkansas and Massachusetts and filed suit in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as a result of the act.

In 1993, ACORN also began a national campaign to fight insurance redlining, a practice that put the gains made in other housing campaigns at risk. The campaign targeted Allstate, hitting sales offices in fourteen cities and a stockholders meeting. Allstate agreed to negotiate and signed an agreement in 1994 for a $10 million partnership with ACORN and NationsBank for below-market mortgages to low-income homebuyers. Travelers Insurance agreed to a Neighborhood and Home Safety Program, linking access to insurance and lower rates to public safety programs.

In 1994, the group improperly used a $1.1 million grant from AmeriCorps for political purposes and the grant was terminated. [cite news | last = | first = | coauthors = | title =Grapes of Rathke | work =The Wall Street Journal | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =November 8, 2006 | url = | accessdate = ] [cite news | last =Bartlett | first =Bruce | title =Minimum wage ACORN roots | work =The Washington Times | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =January 4, 2006 | url = | accessdate = ] . Acorn says it does not now accept direct government funding and is not tax exempt. []

1998-2004: Building capacity

ACORN's subsequent activities have included its "Living Wage" programs, voter registration, and grassroots political organization.

In 1998 ACORN helped form the Working Families Party in New York which counts increasing the minimum wage as its centerpiece issue.

Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN's founder Wade Rathke, was found to have embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000. ACORN executives did not inform the board or law enforcement, but signed an enforceable restitution agreement with the Rathke family to repay the amount of the embezzlement. Wade Rathke stated to the New York Times that "the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a “weapon” into the hands of [...] conservatives who object to [ACORN] 's often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers." A whistleblower revealed the fraud in 2008, leading to the departure of both Dale and Wade Rathke. [cite news |url= |title=Funds Misappropriated at 2 Nonprofit Groups |publisher=The New York Times |date=2008-08-09 |first=Stephanie |last=Strom |accessdate=2008-08-09]

A March 27, 2003 decision of the National Labor Relations Board found that ACORN attempted to thwart union organizing efforts within its own organization by laying off two workers who were attempting to organize.cite web| title = Decisions of the NLRB, 338-129| publisher = National Labor Relations Board| date = 2003-03-27| url =| format = pdf| accessdate = 2006-10-12 ] The two workers, both field organizers with ACORN, began discussions with the Service Employees International Union and later sought to organize under Industrial Workers of the World in response to their $16,000 annual salary for a 54-hour work week.Fact|date=July 2008 The NLRB ordered the two employees be reinstated in their former jobs and ACORN cease from interrogating employees about organizing activity.. ACORN has since strengthened its ties with the Service Employees International Union, which donates over two million dollars to ACORN each year, [cite news |url= |title=The Wal-Mart Posse |publisher=Wall Street Journal |accessdate=2007-11-12] often working collaboratively on issues (including health insurance costs and the minimum wage) and sharing office space.

In 2004, Florida ACORN helped to raise Florida's minimum wage by $1.00 an hour by lobbying for a minimum wage amendment to be placed on the ballot. Over 1 million Florida employees were affected by the raise, which is adjusted annually for inflation.

2004 saw ACORN become an international organization, opening offices in Canada, Peru, and beginning work in Dominican Republic. Since then offices have opened in Mexico and Argentina.


ACORN Votes, ACORN's national political action committee, endorsed the candidacy of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary. [cite press release|title=ACORN’s Political Action Committee Endorses Obama |url=]

Between 2004 and 2008, ACORN has focused significant efforts on voter registration drives. In some locations, ACORN employees have submitted false voter registration forms rather than obtaining registrations from actual eligible voters, and ACORN funded registration drives have been subject to investigations in a number of additional locations.

Investigations that have not resulted in charges have been conducted in St. Louis, Missouri in 2006; [ [ Voter registration workers admit fraud] ] [cite news |url= |title=St. Louis Election Board Investigating Voter Fraud |date=2006-10-11 |first=Ann |last=Rubin |publisher=KSDK TV |accessdate=2007-11-12] Lake County, Indiana Thousands of voter registration forms faked, officials say] and Cuyahoga County [ NUTS! HOW ACORN GOT ME INTO VOTE SCAM] 1 Voter, 72 Registrations] in 2008; in Michigan in 2008; [ Bad voter applications found, September 14, 2008] ] in Nevada in 2008;cite news|url=|title=ACORN Vegas Office Raided in Voter Fraud Investigation|date=2008-10-07|publisher=Fox News|accessdate=2008-10-07] [Oct. 8, 2008 News-Journal] in Missouri in 2008. [] Investigations resulting in charges or convictions of ACORN voter-registration employees occurred in 2004 in Ohio; [cite web | title = The Acorn Indictments: A union-backed outfit faces charges of election fraud| publisher = The Wall Street Journal | date = 2006-11-03| url =] [cite web | title = New Registration Rules Stir Voter Debate in Ohio | publisher = The New York Times | date = 2006-08-06| url =] in 2005 in Colorado; ["Briefing," Rocky Mountain News, 1/4/05, cited at] in 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri;cite news | title = ACORN Workers Indicted For Alleged Voter Fraud| publisher = KMBC-TV| date = 2006-11-01| url =| accessdate = 2006-11-02 ] in 2007 in Washington state. [cite web | title = Voter Fraud Watch: Could ACORN Scandal in Washington Have Been Avoided With Photo ID? | publisher = FOX News | date = 2008-05-02| url =] In the Washington case, ACORN agreed to pay King County $25 000 for its investigative costs and acknowledged that the national organization could be subject to criminal prosecution if fraud occurs again. According to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, the misconduct was done "as an easy way to get paid [by ACORN] , not as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections." [cite news |url= |title=Felony charges filed against 7 in state's biggest case of voter-registration fraud |publisher=The Seattle Times |date=2007-07-28 |first=Keith |last=Ervin |accessdate=2007-11-12] [cite news |url= |title=Reform group turned in 2000 suspicious voter registrations |publisher=Seattle Post Intelligencer |date=2007-02-23 |first=Rachel last=La Corte |accessdate=2007-11-12]

During investigations, ACORN has publicly supported the investigations of employees submitting fraudulent voter registration information, has fired them if evidence supports the charges, and has stated its concern with false information on registration forms. [cite web |url= |title=2 accused of fraud in voter registration |date=2004-10-28 |publisher=Boston Globe |accessdate=2008-07-14] [ cite web |url= |title=4 ACORN Workers Indicted in KC |first=Antonio D. |last=French |date=2006-11-01 | |accessdate=2007-11-12] Officials have stated that ACORN has been cooperative in these investigations.

ACORN in political discourse

ACORN has been criticized by free market groups and some Republicans for its role in advocating lending practices to borrowers without traditional qualifications (large down payments and proven income sources), and for encouraging government based housing trusts rather than a market oriented approach to expand public housing. [] [Consumer Rights League] A report from the free-market Consumers Rights League charges that ACORN misused housing funds, encouraged banks through the Community Reinvestment Act to make risky loans to borrowers with bad credit, and contributed to the housing/ financial crisis. [Consumer Rights League] []

Some Democrats have championed ACORN's work in organizing and supporting the causes of people with low and moderate incomes, including its voter registration initiatives, support for lending to people with low incomes and advocacy for other community development assistance. [] But the group has also been the focus of partisan controversy from Republicans over its support for Democratic candidates, voter outreach to persons who tend to favor Democrats, and over some of its advocacy work including on housing policies that some Republicans have blamed for contributing to the financial crisis.

ACORN's political committees have sometimes endorsed Democratic candidates. [cite press release|title=ACORN’s Political Action Committee Endorses Obama |url=] ACORN has participated in every Democratic Convention since 1980 [] with members elected as delegates. [] ACORN has lobbied delegates at Republican conventions. []

House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner called for ACORN to be barred from receiving federal monies, and for a ban on ACORN contracting with candidates for federal office. He said, "ACORN spent decades promoting the housing policies that brought America's economy to the brink, and similarly over the years has committed fraud on our system of elections" [cite journal|url= |author=Politico|title=Boehner escalates war on ACORN|work=Politico|date=9 October 2008]

In contrast, John Atlas writes in a Huffington Post editorial that ACORN has "accumulated many enemies" and has been "subjected to vicious attacks from business lobbyists, conservative politicians, and right-wing media." This same source alleges that the George W. Bush administration has sought to harass ACORN with accusation of voter fraud. [cite journal|url= |author=John Atlas|title=ACORN Under The Microscope|work=The Huffington Post|date=July 14, 2008]

In a report released October 2008 the US Department of Justice Inspector General found that former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was wrongfully fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after Iglesias declined to indict over alleged voter fraud at an ACORN affiliate in New Mexico, citing insufficient evidence. [ [ |author=US Department of Justice Inspector General|title= An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006, pgs 156-167 and 190] ]

During the debate on the bailout bill (the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008), some conservative commentators claimed that a draft provision (omitted in the adopted bill) to give money to funds run by the US Department of the Treasury, although not earmarking any funds for ACORN, could potentially lead to money flowing to groups like ACORN. [] cite news | last =Williamson | first =Elizabeth | coauthors =Mullins, Brody | title =Democratic Ally Mobilizes In Housing Crunch | work =The Wall Street Journal | pages = | language = | publisher = | date =July 31, 2008 | url = | accessdate = ] When asked how much money ACORN or other community groups would get, Steven Adamske, spokesman for Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the Financial Services Committee said, "None. Absolutely none. All funds would go to state and local governments."cite web |url= |title=ACORN Issue Fueling Bailout Opposition |accessdate= |author=Ryan Grim |date=September 27, 2008 |work=CBS News |publisher=]



*cite book |first=Gary |last=Delgado |title=Organizing the Movement: The Roots and Growth of ACORN |location=Philadelphia |publisher=Temple University Press |year=1986 |isbn=0-87722-393-9 |oclc=12134922 59256995

External links

* [ ACORN]
* [ ACORN Living Wage Resource Center]

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