So we wondered: if those funds do end up getting cut off, how would ACORN be affected? The group's voter-registration work, aimed at low-income and minority (read: Democratic) voters, often seems to be the real cause of Republican ire. So would those efforts take a hit, potentially benefiting Republicans in future elections? Simply put, what does ACORN use federal money for?
According to Brian Kettenring, ACORN's deputy director of national operations, the group's voter-registration work is funded entirely through private sources -- primarily membership dues and foundation grants. So that work would be unaffected.
The same goes for ACORN's core operations -- the rent on its offices, for instance.
In recent years, ACORN has been getting around $2-3 million in federal funds annually, said Kettenring, stressing that this was a rough estimate. That's about 10 percent of its total budget for the year.
That money goes mostly to housing work: primarily fair housing programs, which fight housing discrimination; and foreclosure-prevention programs, which help low-income people obtain loan modifications so they don't lose their homes, and which educate people about preventing foreclosure.
Important work these days, you might say. Losing federal funds, said Kettenring, "would impact our ability to help people save their home."
In other words, ACORN itself, said Kettenring, won't be hurt much by Congress's action. It's the people who ACORN works with -- who tend to be among the neediest -- who will lose out.
To be sure, it's fair to question how effective those programs ultimately are, based on the evidence in the videos -- even granting that those employees may well not be typical. The offenders caught on camera were giving advice about taxes -- another area that, according to Kettenring, ACORN uses some federal funds for. It's understandable to be concerned about those funds being used to advise people on how to break the law.
But it's not as if the federal money will now go to a different group that does this work more effectively. So the ultimate result, of course, is less help for struggling Americans, in very difficult economic times. As members of both parties compete to express their outrage, that's worth keeping in mind.
Late Update: A different ACORN spokesman tells the Wall Street Journal that the group is considering cutting its voter-registration work. That's not because of any funding issue. Rather, it's a desire to avoid "political attacks."
Reports the Journal (sub. req.):
Acorn spokesman Kevin Whelan said the group was now deciding whether to focus on such lower-profile election activities as persuading registered voters to head to the polls. Its stated mission has been to register low-income Americans to vote.
"If you do registration on a large scale, you open yourselves up to political attack because it's inevitable that you will make some small mistakes," Mr. Whelan said.