Friday, August 13, 2010

ACORN Ruled Not a Bill of Attainder After it Was.

Okay, first of all, what is a Bill of Attainder?

According to Wikipedia, it means when legislature imposes punishment on a person or group of persons without benefit of a trial. The US Constitution forbids bills of attainder and in addition, the constitution of every State also expressly forbids bills of attainder.

Forbidding attainder laws serve two purposes:
  1. Prohibit legislature from  performing judicial functions.
  2. Embodies the concept of due process. 
"No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law (a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions committed prior to the enactment of the law) shall be passed".
Second, why isn't defunding ACORN considered a bill of attainder after it was already declared one in a previous federal court ruling? After all a congressional report found ACORN broke no laws.

A three-judge panel (two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee) on the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that " Congress acted within its authority when it blocked federal funding last year for community activist group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)."

Apparently, denying federal funding isn't a punishment even though it sounds the death knell for this organization. Death penalty, anyone?

Third, what did ACORN do to deserve this "non-punishing" no-trial,  "non-sanctioned" execution, anyway?

ACORN supposedly engaged in voter registration fraud.  They were also exposed  in an embezzlement scheme by a whistle-blower who forced them to disclose the embezzlement, which involved the brother of the ACORN's founder, Wade Rathke. ACORN did not notify law enforcement and instead signed a restitution agreement with the ACORN founder's brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.

ACORN also fell victim to a sensational video sting after a few of their lower level employees responded very poorly to two undercover conservatives, O'Keefe and Giles, dressed as a pimp and a prostitute in order to elicit damaging responses from them to prove that ACORN is indeed, a criminal enterprise. Well, the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes cleared ACORN employees of criminal wrongdoing on March 1, 2010 after a five-month investigation.  But that didn't seem to matter either.

As of October 2009, ACORN had been subjected to at least 46 federal, state, and local investigations. And so it goes, the right-wing's war on the "weak" continues.
But ACORN CEO and Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis told me that the ruling didn't correct the injustice. "The judge declared it unconstitutional. Well, it didn't seem to make a difference--did not make one whit of a difference. The new Appropriations bill had defund ACORN language in it. The damage has been done. The omnibus bill was signed. So they completely ignored the judge's order, so now we have to go back in the court along with the Center for Constitutional Rights--thank God for them. And we will continue to fight this legally because we know we are right."

According to Lewis, damage to ACORN's work on the ground includes "10,000 people minimum" who will not obtain free tax preparation services from ACORN. In the past, ACORN has helped them file for the Earned Income Tax Credit and thereby "put billions of dollars back into low-income neighborhoods."

"We've had to suspend that. That's a direct affect on poor people, and you know we were commended by the IRS prior to the right-wing attacks," said Lewis.

Lewis also said ACORN must curtail its fight against foreclosures. "About 200,000 people that we won't be able to help directly," she said, noting that this comes at a moment when the Obama Administration has admitted its own anti-foreclosure plan has fallen short because bailed-out banks aren't cooperating.

Finally, Lewis said loss of funding has impacted ACORN's fight to address wage and hour disparities--workers who aren't paid the minimum wage, cheated out of overtime, unfairly dismissed or discriminated against--"people just totally taking advantage of low-wage workers in this economy."

"It's not so much the amount of government grants," said Lewis. "But what was so insidious is--once your name has been attached to a bill in Congress and you have been singled out as suspect, whether you get the federal funds or not, now you have driven away private foundation funding. That is the true harm because we have been singled out for infamy."

Indeed in these times, when a rabid right-wing has access to megaphones of hate, it's critical that there be a check against this kind of smear campaign--and part of that check is fact-checking.

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