ACORN: Congress Can't Hurt Us

By Michael Falcone
|  Tuesday, Oct 6, 2009  |  Updated 2:45 PM PDT
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ACORN: Congress Can't Hurt Us

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WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 06: Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN) CEO Bertha Lewis delivers remarks during a National Press Club Newsmaker event October 6, 2009 in Washington, DC. Lewis spoke on the topic of ACORN's internal probe following accusations of inappropriate behavior by some ACORN employees, federal government investigations, and a vote in Congress to cut off federal funding.

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Any successful efforts by Congress to cut off federal funding to scandal-plagued ACORN would have little effect on the community organizing group’s overall operations, its chief executive officer said on Tuesday.

“We didn’t have government funding for years,” said ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis. “We may not have government funding in the future.”

Lewis said ACORN typically receives about $2.5 million to $3 million annually from the federal government – roughly 10 percent of its $20 million to $25 million annual budget. Member dues and private sources make up a much larger chunk of the budget, she said.

After a series of undercover videos surfaced showing ACORN employees giving advice to conservative activists posing as a prostitute and a pimp, opponents in Congress have sought to cut the group’s sources of federal money. In recent weeks, both the U.S. Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service have also ended partnerships with ACORN.

But Lewis, who spoke Tuesday at Washington’s National Press Club, called the congressional actions a case of “modern day ACORN McCarththyism,” and she dismissed a report by the Republican staff of the Senate Finance Committee alleging that ACORN used some charitable funding for political purposes.

Last month, the group suspended new intakes to its service programs throughout the country, pending the results of an independent review led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.

Lewis, who said her remarks were part of a “set-the-record-straight tour,” said the group would continue to pursue a lawsuit against the makers of the videos as well as the conservative Web site, Breitbart.com, where they first appeared.

“Just because we were embarrassed by these highly edited tapes,” Lewis said, “doesn’t mean that these people didn’t break the law in order to embarrass and attack the organization.”

Still, Lewis acknowledged that when she watched the clips, “it made my stomach turn over – it just made you sick.”

The Website’s founder, Andrew Breitbart, could not be reached for comment. But in appearance on Fox News last month he called the lawsuit “an attempt to stifle free speech and the First Amendment.”

Lewis also denied fresh allegations revealed in connection with an investigation of ACORN in Louisiana that Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, embezzled as much as $5 million from the organization. The amount of missing money was just under $1 million, according to Lewis, who said the higher figure was “completely false and not based on any documentation or any audit other than two disgruntled former board members.”

On Tuesday, Lewis wistfully recalled her own years as community organizer and said that she planned to continue serving as CEO of ACORN for at least another year.

“I admit I’m not a graduate of the Wharton School of Business,” she said. “But you know something, I believed – and my board believed – that if you worked hard and if you got the proper people to do the job that we could make sure that ACORN was solid and stable going into the 21st century.”

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