After a tough 2009 in which ACORN’s reputation sustained considerable damage, the community organizing group is suddenly on a public relations offensive.
Things started to turn around two weeks ago the day that James O’Keefe, the young filmmaker behind the undercover stings that brought national scrutiny to ACORN, was arrested at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office. He is charged with entering a federal office under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony — tampering with the phones.Last week, ACORN chief Bertha Lewis blasted an e-mail to 127,000 supporters asking them to “Sting the Stinger” by petitioning state attorneys general to investigate whether O’Keefe’s undercover videos broke the law. (Read one version of the e-mail here.)
“[T]hroughout 2010 we are going to continue fighting so working families facing foreclosure can keep their homes, unemployed families can get jobs, and the Wall Street bankers who got us into this economic trainwreck are held accountable,” Lewis wrote. “Click here to fight back against the corporate paymasters and their attack dogs seeking to disrupt this work by getting CA and MD to investigate James O’Keefe’s allegedly illegal videotapes of ACORN employees.”
Over 10,000 supporters clicked through and sent the petition, says ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan.
In another version, Lewis asks supporters to “chip-in $52 to help us keep the pressure on O’Keefe and his corporate paymasters.” Whelan says “the donations will end up in the low thousands — a meaningful and gratifying show of support, but certainly not outweighing the damage done by O’Keefe’s video scam.”
He tells TPMmuckraker that leaders of the group realized after the Landrieu incident that last year’s stings — which showed employees advising a couple claiming to be a pimp and a prostitute on how to break the law — would be in the news again.
“I think [O’Keefe’s arrest] opened the door to people thinking a little more critically about the whole thing last year,” Whelan says. “Whether we like it or not, the story is going to be revisited some more times. I think there is an opportunity to get people to take another look at the facts of the case, which were lost in some of the hysteria and rush to judgment when the videotapes first came out.”
Another sign of the push has been the ACORN twitter account, which has been making hay of the Landrieu incident for days. “Okeefe at the SF Commonwealth Club? On a panel for journalists? Is this a joke?” asked one tweet.
It’s worth noting that ACORN is not suddenly free from links to all scandal. Lewis recently departed as state co-chair of the Working Families Party in New York, City Hall reported this week. The U.S. Attorney’s office recently subpoenaed the WFP for documents in connection with its for-profit arm, Data & Field Services.