By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009
President Obama said in an interview aired Sunday that the community organizing group ACORN should be investigated for offering tax help to a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute in widely watched videotapes.
But in the interview on ABC's "This Week," Obama did not say who should conduct such an investigation and played down the importance of the controversy.
"What I saw on that video was certainly inappropriate and deserves to be investigated," he said, but he declined to say whether he supported action by Congress to cut off federal funding for the group.
"Frankly, it's not something I've followed closely," Obama said, adding he had not been aware that ACORN received much federal funding. "This is not the biggest issue facing the country. It's not something I'm paying a lot of attention to," he said.
ACORN has come under fire in the wake of videotapes showing field office employees giving tax advice to two conservative activists who posed as a pimp and prostitute. Congress voted last week to cut off federal funding for the organization. House Republicans are pursuing investigations of the group's financial activities.
ACORN -- which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- has long been a target of GOP criticism over its role in mounting voter-registration drives benefiting Obama and other Democrats. Obama's infrequent ties to the group extend to his days as a community organizer in Chicago, including representing the group as a lawyer in 1994 and helping in a local voter-registration effort in 1992.
Internal ACORN documents obtained by House Republicans show that the organization has been in financial turmoil for years, with a board torn over how to handle embezzlement by the founder's brother and growing concern that donor money and pension funds had been plundered in the insider scheme, which occurred in 1999 and 2000.
Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Obama's call for an investigation "further legitimizes what many of us in Congress have been saying for months."
"Whether it be Congress's oversight committee, the Justice Department or the IRS, we need to take seriously the question of whether or not ACORN has been abusing its receipt of taxpayer dollars to further a political agenda and whether its status as a not-for-profit corporation is appropriate or not," Issa said in a statement.
ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis said the group agrees that "issues raised by the videos need to be investigated," and she said the group plans to name "a person of standing" to conduct an independent review of the events.
Lewis said the group has stopped accepting new families into its housing and tax assistance programs until an outside review is complete.
"Over the next several weeks, you will see us working triple time to get this review right so that we can refocus attention on ACORN's critical work for low- and moderate-income families," Lewis said.
Lewis and Issa also appeared on "Fox News Sunday," on which the ACORN director vowed to fire anyone who is "too stupid to understand that they are not reaching professional standards."
Staff writers Carol D. Leonnig and Alexi Mostrous contributed to this report.