THE Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is about as popular these days as Michael Vick at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And for good reason.
Several ACORN staffers in Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and New York were caught on tape offering advice to a man and a woman posing as a pimp and a prostitute on how to avoid paying federal taxes. The pair, one of whom calls himself an activist filmmaker, created a ruse seeking advice on how their brothel with a dozen underage girls from El Salvador could beat the tax man.
Their real purpose, of course, was to get material on video to discredit ACORN, a nonpartisan organization that serves poor and minority communities that typically vote Democratic.
The video was posted on BigGovernment.com last week, providing a field day for conservative bloggers and talk hosts.
While the setup was absurd, the ACORN staffers caught on tape did their organization no favors by dispensing advice meant to circumvent the law. ACORN fired the workers, but the damage had been done.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau, which has used ACORN to raise awareness in typically undercounted communities, severed ties with the organization.
On Monday, the Senate voted to bar ACORN from receiving housing grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This follows allegations that ACORN canvassers around the country engaged in voter registration fraud in 2008. In Allegheny County, seven workers from the group were ordered this spring to stand trial for submitting fraudulent registration forms.
All of this hurts an organization that has tried to get help for low and moderate-income citizens on mortgage foreclosures, public school funding, sick-leave benefits, fair wages, and voting rights.
On Wednesday, ACORN said it would order an independent investigation into its systems and processes, conduct staff training, and suspend new admissions into its community service programs. That's a start.
While it's hard to condone the tactic used by the bogus brothel operators, the bigger concern is that these ACORN employees so readily rose to the bait and tarnished the organization.
ACORN's leaders may feel stung; however, their best response must be a thorough housecleaning and retraining to ensure that those who toil in its name are as high-minded as its mission.
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