ACORN Loses Its Funding From Big Foundations

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009

The liberal political organizing group ACORN, battered by the release of embarrassing videos and allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud, has also been losing support from several major foundations.

The Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation and Bank of America have stopped funding the group and its affiliates over the past year and a half.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a network that helps low-income families with housing, voter registration and other issues, receives about 10 percent of its $25 million annual budget from federal grants, according to Brian Kettenring, deputy director of national operations. The rest comes from foundations, membership dues and private donations.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation stopped making grants to ACORN in early 2009, according to spokeswoman Sue Lin Chong. The Casey foundation gave an average of $270,000 a year to ACORN. The foundation saw good results from the grants and believes the funding was used appropriately, according to Cho.

The Ford Foundation, which has given nearly $2 million, suspended funding for ACORN and its affiliate organizations about a year ago because of concerns about inadequate financial controls and procedures, according to spokeswoman Fiona R. Guthrie.

One local group said it has no plans to change the terms of a $50,000 grant awarded this summer. The Collaborative for Education Organizing, part of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, sponsored a project aimed at organizing parents of District public high school students to advocate for change in the classroom.

"They are going to keep a real close eye at what's going on at D.C. ACORN and make a decision on how they proceed with the grant," said Terri Freeman, Community Foundation president. Half of the money is contingent upon an interim report due early next year.

The organization was embarrassed recently by videos showing some of its counselors providing advice to a man and woman masquerading as a pimp and a prostitute. It has also been wrestling with an alleged embezzlement scheme by the founder's brother that brought the group to the brink of financial collapse, according to internal documents. Congress recently voted to ban federal funding for the group, and the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service suspended their cooperation with it. There have been investigations into allegations of voter registration fraud.

ACORN officials have said that new leadership is making important changes, and that it is trying to resolve tax delinquencies related to the alleged embezzlement. In the past few weeks, organization leaders sent out pleas for help to supporters. Kettenring estimated that there has been a tenfold increase in grass-roots support, but said he does not know exact amounts.

All of their funders are concerned, Kettenring said, but some have responded by continuing, or even increasing, their support. They include the Needmor Fund, a family foundation based in Toledo that gave about $150,000 a year to local organizations affiliated with ACORN. The fund suspended grantmaking in June 2008 because of the alleged embezzlement. It resumed its funding in September after ACORN took corrective action, said Dave Beckwith, Needmor's executive director.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company