The ACORN hypocrisy

September 23, 2009 | By | 15 Replies More

Over the past few weeks, videotapes have been trickling out that purport to show ACORN employees offered tax advice to those seeking to engage in child prostitution or other salacious activities.  Having viewed the tapes, it’s obvious that they have been edited extensively, and that alone should make one wonder what the original tapes may show.  Further, Media Matters has a lengthy critique of the credibility of the conservative activists and the manufactured news story that they have created, including failing to report that in at least one instance police were called and the filmmakers were removed from the premises after inquiring about underage prostitution.  But really, whether ACORN employees did or did not do everything they are accused of is a side issue.

The Huffington Post yesterday pointed out that the legislative zeal to cut off funding for ACORN may have created an even bigger problem: it may eliminate the entire military-industrial complex.  You see, the legislation prohibits federal funding or promotion of organizations that, among other things, “has filed a fraudulent form with any Federal or State regulatory agency”.  The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) maintains a database of companies holding federal contracts that also have “histories of misconduct such as fraud” that would ostensibly bar them from receiving any further governmental funding under the “Defund ACORN Act”.  Top violators include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grummond, Raytheon, KBR (former Halliburton subsidiary)…. and a staggering number of other large corporations doing business with the federal government.  House Republican leader John Boehner released a statement congratulating house Republicans for all they “have done to hold ACORN accountable for its abuse of taxpayer dollars and the public trust.”  One wonders whether he will hold these other corporations to the same standard that they require of ACORN?  After all, the scale of the violations by the weapons industry dwarfs anything ACORN is accused of.  For fiscal year 2007, Lockheed Martin had federal contracts valued at $34.2 billion (with a b) dollars, and the cost of their misconduct since 1995 is valued at $577.2 million.  ACORN has only received $53 million in federal funds since 1994, and none of the allegations show any actual harm was done to the government.  In other words, Lockeed Martin has actually committed fraud to the tune of over 10 times the total amount of federal funding ACORN has received.  UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald wrote about this today also, and he quotes Rep. Alan Grayson (D.-FL) “The amount of money that ACORN has received in the past 20 years altogether is roughly equal to what the taxpayer paid to Haillburton [sic] each day during the war in Iraq.”

As a society, are willing to overlook the most egregious examples of fraud and corruption, but these minor cases somehow draw all the scrutiny.  Consider these headlines over the past year or so:

  • IRS extends amnesty program for tax cheats. Focused on those with overseas bank accounts, which I’m pretty sure are relatively rare among the middle and lower classes.
  • 13 Firms that received bailout money owe back taxes.  Total owed? Over $220 million.
  • IRS Audits of large companies decline for 3rd year in a row.
  • Rich cheat more on taxes, new study shows. “… because of their higher noncompliance rates, those with true incomes of $200,000 or more received 25% of all income, but accounted for 40% of net underreported income and 42% of underreported tax in 2001″
  • Study shows most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes. No commentary needed.
  • Taxing Grandma to subsidize Goldman Sachs.  “The contrast between how the banks and car companies are treated is the product of political acumen, not financial skills, at Goldman Sachs and other banks. Having fed the campaign machines of both political parties and lavished speaking fees on future White House economic advisors, these financial wizards have managed to purchase preferred treatment in our capital.When times are good, their troops feast like a conquering Roman army. When they fail, Washington gives them welfare on the gold plates of emperors.”
  • Crimes suspected in 20 bailout cases– for starters. “the total fraud could ultimately reach into the tens of billions of dollars”
  • Tax court rejects taxpayer’s attempt to use Geithner’s TurboTax defense. If it’s good enough for the prospective Treasury Secretary, why not for a regular Joe?
  • U.S. Economy: worker productivity surges and labor costs drop.  It’s extremely profitable to exploit workers for increased productivity while they are just trying to keep their jobs.
  • The widening gap in America’s two-tiered society. “…one wonders when a significant number of Americans will, finally, recognize that they’ve been had. Put another way by Andrew Greeley: “It should be no surprise that when rich men take control of the government, they pass laws that are favorable to themselves. The surprise is that those who are not rich vote for such people, even though they should know from bitter experience that the rich will continue to rip off the rest of us. Perhaps the reason is that rich men are very clever at covering up what they do.”This explanation in mind, we need not worry as much about the terrorists from abroad as the terrorists from above and the duped voters who repeatedly fall for political candidates pandering to this broadly malignant upper class. The latter bunch and their sycophantic legislative admirers, more than any foreign guerrillas, are leading the world’s wealthiest nation into ever deeper ruin.”
Wall Street- stock exchange on the right. Via Flickr (commons)

Wall Street- stock exchange on the right. Via Flickr (commons)

Do you understand the common thread among all these articles?  The rich are getting further ahead, largely because they play by a different set of rules.  Conservatives that are so incensed with ACORN need to wake up and realize that they have far more in common with the “socialist” left than they have with the capitalist overlords of our system.  The elite selectively apply the laws, and the right and left bicker over the details.  All this manufactured ACORN controversy does is distract us from the things that really matter to 99% of Americans: jobs, housing, healthcare.  I’m not saying don’t be upset at ACORN if there was, in fact, wrongdoing.  All I ask is that we apply the same standards to the wealthy.  Because while an ACORN employee may have been advising someone how to get a tax break on a brothel, the real criminals have been hiding their taxes out of the country, exploiting their political connections, committing actual fraud, and getting richer all the time.  Perhaps Matt Taibbi put it best:

After all, the reason the winger crowd can’t find a way to be coherently angry right now is because this country has no healthy avenues for genuine populist outrage. It never has. The setup always goes the other way: when the excesses of business interests and their political proteges in Washington leave the regular guy broke and screwed, the response is always for the lower and middle classes to split down the middle and find reasons to get pissed off not at their greedy bosses but at each other. That’s why even people like Beck’s audience, who I’d wager are mostly lower-income people, can’t imagine themselves protesting against the Wall Street barons who in actuality are the ones who fucked them over…

But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.

And now we have another textbook example of this kind of misdirected anger.  ACORN, a group that exists to help low- and moderate-income people, has somehow become the target of this rage at corruption that has been brewing since the bailout.  ACORN’s priorities are raising the minimum wage, enacting living-wage policies, eliminating predatory lending practices, improving funding for schools, and enrolling voters. What are Lockheed Martin’s priorities?  Citibank’s? Halliburton’s?  It’s time for all of us to ask ourselves who we really have more in common with.

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Category: American Culture, Fraud, hypocrisy, Social justice

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is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

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  1. Sarah Connor says:

    Brynn Jacobs writes that, "ACORN has only received $53 million in federal funds since 1994, and none of the allegations show any actual harm was done to the government."

    A lack of financial loss to the government does not equate to a lack of social harm.

    When confronted with the undercover tapes, what in your mind should Congress have done? Let Acorn conduct the census? You describe Acorn as a humanitarian organization. In your opinion, is it a nonpartisan organization or does it work to the political advantage of the democratic party with taxpayer funds?

    For profit-corporations can be fined treble damages for making false claims against the government. You can't fine a not-for profit organization. Cutting off funding is appropriate.

    The government is leaking taypayer money like a sieve. It needs to be plugged all over the place. Just because more money is hemmorhaging elsewhere is no reason to give Acorn a pass.

    Elected officials need to set good examples by paying their taxes.

    You are right. This is just another score for the big guy. ACORN has just sued the two college kids. Guess they can look forward to social justice in the Baltimore courts.

  2. Jay Fraz says:

    Erich/lawyers : Perhaps to expand the discussion a little further Sarah speaks of the two people who took the video being sued.

    Now, as this was footage was secretly taken on private property, was a law broken? Was their expectation of privacy reasonable at the ACORN offices? I'm certain this is a state more than federal issue but this sounds like the equivalent of taking video of someone in the shower and then putting it out for all to see. Unless the footage was done in public space.

    Of course whoever edited it probably is going to be in some deep deep !$@# for libel.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Thank you, Brynn. Your point goes way beyond the often-used quote by Anatole France:

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. That is one of the good effects of the Revolution.

    Le Lys rouge ch. vii (1894) (S.H. transl.)

    What you are arguing (with Exhibits A, B, C, . . .) is that there are actually two sets of rules, not merely a single slanted set.

    It's just that the second set of rules is usually encrypted in legalese and bureaucratese. There are a lot of complicated rules, but only those who can afford to buy the services of prominent lawyers, lobbyists and politicians can navigate, much less understand, the dramatically unfair stuff.

    To your main point, if you get caught stealing a loaf of bread at a grocery story, you'll get cuffed and have your ass thrown into prison, the police calling you expletives during the ride to the pokey-bin. If you are a BIG TIME crook, the kind that steals the pensions of widows or who rips off the tax-payers for billions, you are called "Mister," as in "Mister Madoff."

    We won't much meaningful reform as long as the victims don't see that they are the victims. As we've discussed before on this site, the dwindling middle class won't have an easy time waking up to their endangerment as long as they fail to wean themselves from their addictions to various offerings of the entertainment industries. These addictions keep citizens from spending enough time considering the facts to be in a position to render meaningful criticisms of their government. What they REALLY need to focus on, in my opinion, is the absurd ongoing legalized bribery that goes under the name of "campaign contributions," which contributes greatly to our almost complete inability to have national discussion of the most important political issues of the day. Our private financing of politicians seems to have corrupted most of the politicians in Washington. Exhibit A is the failure to pass a "cram-down" provision for bankruptcy courts.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Jay: I was about to mention that some states require the consent of all persons being recorded to be legal. Then I saw this article that suggests that Maryland is one of those states. ACORN has picked up on this apparent problem and has already filed suit. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/23/acorn-su

    I haven't researched the feasibility of an invasion of privacy suit. There might also be a "false light" cause of action. I don't know if libel would work here, given that the ACORN people actually did say the things that they were alleged to have said (assuming that the tape hasn't been altered).

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Speaking of double-standards . . .

    Unlike people without health insurance, homeowners have access to public option flood insurance. Even those who fail to take personal responsibility to buy insurance to protect their property can get benefits, thanks in good part to politicians who are leading opponents of public option healthcare.

    Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-cay-johnston/

  6. Jay Fraz says:

    Erich : To expand upon the public option for flood insurance. Libertarian talking head John Stossel himself has bought it and collected on the policy when a flood occurred. He wrote about it in one of his books in a section talking about how he was a welfare queen(no joke, trying to be sarcastic). Apparently no one would insure his coastal house, of course he *claimed* that no one would insure but living in Florida I know you can always find private insurance if you're willing to pay for it, even for flooding.

    He also apparently thinks a pair of bitch slaps is worth over $400,000.00, that is why he is for tort reform, so others don't get his paycheck.



    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stossel#David_S

    Of course he doesn't have an extensive history of cherry picking.

    /rant

  7. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Sarah Connor says:

    A lack of financial loss to the government does not equate to a lack of social harm.

    When confronted with the undercover tapes, what in your mind should Congress have done? Let Acorn conduct the census? You describe Acorn as a humanitarian organization. In your opinion, is it a nonpartisan organization or does it work to the political advantage of the democratic party with taxpayer funds?

    You're right, a lack of financial harm does not equal a lack of social harm. But consider this: perhaps ACORN employees are used to dealing with lots of uncomfortable issues. Perhaps lots of very poor people come to them seeking help, and perhaps some of these very poor people are involved in illegal activities in an attempt to make ends meet, such as prostitution or drugs. Perhaps after years of hearing the same questions from what seems to be a permanent underclass, these questions are not so shocking to ACORN employees anymore.

    In my opinion, it appears to be a non-partisan organization. I would submit that so many on the right consider them partisan because they cater to the poor and disenfranchised, who tend to lean Democratic when they vote. I can't explain why that is, since the poor seem to get sold out just as often by the Democrats as by the Republicans. But really, whether they are or are not partisan is a side issue. The real issue, as always, is class. As I said in the post:

    I’m not saying don’t be upset at ACORN if there was, in fact, wrongdoing. All I ask is that we apply the same standards to the wealthy. Because while an ACORN employee may have been advising someone how to get a tax break on a brothel, the real criminals have been hiding their taxes out of the country, exploiting their political connections, committing actual fraud, and getting richer all the time.

    I'm not saying it's wrong to cut off funding, or whatever you want to do. I'm all for ending corruption, and if ACORN is involved in corruption, then that should be corrected. The big point is that if we are going to be anti-corruption, then let's enforce the same rules for everyone–including defense contractors and big-money interests who, as Erich points out, have the resources to be able to flaunt the laws at will, or secure friendly legislation. That's the larger point, and one that I think is getting missed in much of the ACORN controversy.

    The government is leaking taypayer money like a sieve. It needs to be plugged all over the place. Just because more money is hemmorhaging elsewhere is no reason to give Acorn a pass.

    You're right, to a point. If there's wrongdoing, nobody should get a pass. But we've been ignoring literally billions of dollars in actual, proven fraud while scrambling to de-fund an organization that receives an infinitesimal amount of funding in comparison. The defense contractors I profiled have actually been convicted in court of defrauding the government (ultimately the taxpayers) of literally billions of dollars. Why isn't there <span style="font-weight: bold;">at least</span> an equivalent level of outrage?

  8. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Another example is Xe (formerly Blackwater). Despite evidence of tax evasion, they have had a their contract extended in Iraq— ostensibly in violation of Iraqi law. But we're all about applying the law impartially, right? h/t digby

    How about cutting funding (TARP, TALF, etc…) to some of the major banks?

    See Bank of America.

    How about AOL(Time-Warner), <a href="http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/latimes/access/1466973541.html?dids=1466973541:1466973541&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Apr+23%2C+2008&author=Kim+Christensen%3B+E.+Scott+Reckard&pub=Los+Angeles+Times&desc=REGULATION%3B+Broadcom+settles+SEC+fraud+suit%3B+The+complaint+alleged+that+the+Irvine+firm%27s+cofounders+helped+backdate+options.&pqatl=google&quot; rel="nofollow">Broadcom, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/telecom/2007-03-12-nortel_N.htm&quot; rel="nofollow">Nortel, <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_wires/2007Apr25/0,4675,AppleStockOptions,00.html&quot; rel="nofollow">Apple, <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a_GNahfI7WNM&refer=home&quot; rel="nofollow">Delphi, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/20/business/market-place-in-us-eyes-a-notably-bold-case-of-health-care-fraud.html&quot; rel="nofollow">HealthSouth, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/30/business/fraud-suit-names-kpmg-and-partners.html?pagewanted=all&quot; rel="nofollow">KPMG, ….. nevermind, it's too depressing for me to continue. Google "fraud" and your favorite governmental agency (I used the SEC for this list).

    As Erich suggests also, there's a link to campaign finance– Time-Warner contributed $1.75 million to <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/toprecips.php?id=D000000094&quot; rel="nofollow">incumbent congressional candidates last year.

  9. Tim Hogan says:

    From what I read in the attached link, no criminal violations appear to have occurred with the Maryland tapings.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/spe

    I find it very misleading for the press and the right to never mention in any reports that the police were called, and these folks were kicked out many times, before their stinky bait caught some bottom-dwelling little fish at ACORN.

    The whole thing appears to be an adjunct of the anti-Obama witch hunt of the far right racist fascist corporatist Republicans who will stop at nothing to defeat President Obama and health care reform.

    I'll bet these guys spend over $500 million to defeat healthcare reform.

    If reform passes, and works, the political landscape will favor progressives for the next generation or more. The GOP/Right cannot tolerate such, and the GOP/Right will get all the money it needs from its fascist corporate masters to defeat eform.

  10. dave says:

    "far right racist fascist corporatist Republicans… fascist corporate masters"

    I bet you're fun at parties.

    To think that one party is any less beholden to large corporate interests or big money is the first fallacy of living in a dual party system. To think that the DEM is any less in the grips of Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, AFLCIO, NEA, ABA, or for that matter Major League Baseball is self-delusional.

    Are the GOP a bunch of money-grubbing crooks? Hell yes. Are their democratic cousins any less so? Maybe, but only ever so slightly because they are fresh into power. Give them a few years to rot out fully (remember Tip O'Neil?)

    But anyhoo… I have a problem with the logic that seems to underline Brynn's article. Is it that ACORN ain't so bad because huge companies also steal our tax dollars? Comparing evil to greater evil doesn't get anyone into Heaven. Is the argument that Congress has uneven rules and/or subjective amnesia when certain offenders give sufficient contributions? If so, then I would ask: which party is in majority, and how are they any cleaner this time around?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Dave: I agree entirely. Give people the reins of power and lots of time and they will rot. Or at least they will tend to rot, unless there is a lot of sunshine (which is the best disinfectant) and unless there is an educated and involved populace keeping tabs on the workings of their government.

  11. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A few days ago, I watched the movie "Man of the Year".

    In the movie, political satirist Tom Dobbs (played by Robin Williams) runs for president as an independent candidate, not expecting to win but to shake things up and bring out the real issues in the campaign. However, due to a flaw in the new electronic voting system, he wins the election.

    A lot of the satire in the movie reminds me of recent events in the news. Several quotes from the film can be found here.

  12. Brynn Jacobs says:

    An excerpt from Bernie Sanders' floor speech offering an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would "calculate the total amount of money that goes to companies that have engaged in fraud against the United States and then make recommendations about how to penalize repeat offenders."

    Mr. President, just to reiterate, a few weeks ago, this Senate voted to strip funding for an organization called ACORN, which received $53 million in federal funds over a period of 15 years. The basis of that decision was a video tape shown repeatedly on national television in which several ACORN employees were involved in a totally absurd and reprehensible discussion. Those employees have since been fired, and should have been fired, and ACORN should be extremely ashamed that people like that were employed by them. But now, we are involved with an issue of far greater consequence than ACORN. Not of $53 million of federal funds over 1 5 years but of hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars going to large corporate defense contractors who year after year after year engage in illegal behavior and rip off the American taxpayer. One has got to be pretty blind not to perceive that this type of behavior is systemic to the industry and that it is part of their overall business model. And, let me just add, what I've described now is just some of what these companies have been caught doing. Who knows what other illegal activities have taken place which have not yet been discovered.

  13. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: Good for Bernie Sanders. Wherever government doesn't work, we must fix it. No exceptions.

    Imagine the screaming if we suddenly had a new amendment to the constitution making it clear that similarly situated people and companies MUST be treated similarly. No exceptions. No special tax breaks. Prosecutors could not exercise discriminatory discretion to overlook fraud by big contributors. No more special funding for companies who commit massive fraud. No handouts to companies that are "too big to fail," letting the little companies shrivel and die. No more government deals for those who are contributors. No more easy access to our politicians by those who are contributors.

    Just listen to the shrill cries when Elizabeth Warren seeks to create an agency to make sure that the financial corporations play fair with consumers! http://dangerousintersection.org/2009/09/06/eliza… and see here: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/09/25-4 . Yet the financial institutions write their own regulations, put the entire country in great (continuing) jeopardy, pressure the taxpayers for a bailout and (in many cases) pay their bigshots millions and billions in bonuses.

    Just compare the damage caused to the US by ACORN v. the financial institutions. There's no comparison. Now it's time to go after the banks, making sure that the penalty is proportionate to ACORN's penalty and proportionate to the harm they caused.

  14. Dan Klarmann says:

    The ACORN sting wasn't about government waste. It was about nailing an essentially liberal service corporation that may well tip elections through enfranchisement of those whom the GOP prefers to ignore.

    That it was done via a juicy morality violation was a brilliant stroke of PR. Find out who was behind the plumbers reporters, and we'll have a story.

    The silly advice to hide earnings from illegal activities was the same policy that has destroyed many a crime syndicate. The IRS doesn't care how you get your money, so long as you tithe. Tax Evasion has put many a violent crime lord behind bars, those who were legally untouchable for their obvious predations.

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