Report: ACORN May Have Used Charitable Money For Political Work

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Here’s something sure to provide grist for a thousand new Republican attacks.

ACORN — the community organizing group that the McCain campaign and the RNC have been working to turn into a short-hand for (unfounded) fears of voter fraud — may have broken federal laws covering how it can spend money and resources among its many affiliates, according to a story in the New York Times.

The Grey Lady reveals that an internal report written by an ACORN lawyer spells out “concerns about potentially improper use of charitable dollars for political purposes; money transfers among the affiliates; and potential conflicts created by employees working for multiple affiliates, among other things.”

The finding in the report with perhaps the most immediate significance to ACORN’s prominent role in the campaign concerns the relationship between the group and Project Vote, an affiliated charity that does voter-registration work with ACORN. ACORN, a non-profit corporation, can legally do partisan political work, but Project Vote, a tax-exempt charity, can’t.

The report found:

[T]he tight relationship between Project Vote and Acorn made it impossible to document that Project Vote’s money had been used in a strictly nonpartisan manner. Until the embezzlement scandal broke last summer, Project Vote’s board was made up entirely of Acorn staff members and Acorn members.

The report also noted that until July, the same person served as ACORN’s political director and Project Vote’s executive director.

Here’s the argument Republicans will likely use to tie this news to their ongoing attacks on ACORN’s voter-registration activities: if the non-partisan group that ACORN partners with on voter registration work is in practice controlled by ACORN proper, which can legally conduct partisan political activities, it’s more plausible that the fraudulent registration forms submitted by Project Vote are part of a politically motivated scheme to sway the election — as the GOP has been claiming, without evidence, all along — rather than honest mistakes.

The other thing to note is that when Republicans talk about Obama’s ties to ACORN, they’re often talking about a short period in 1992 when he worked for Project Vote, though the relationship between the two groups appears to have been less close at the time.

So today’s news will add fuel to both of those fires. But the crucial point on ACORN as it relates to this election — that there’s still essentially no evidence whatsoever of voter registration fraud actually leading to voter fraud — is as true today as it was yesterday.