By Associated Press
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The community-organizing group ACORN said Monday that an internal investigation had concluded there was no criminal conduct by employees who offered advice on how to hide assets and falsify lending documents.
ACORN's chief executive described the report, by former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger, as "part vindication, part constructive criticism and complete road map for the future."
In a 47-page assessment, Harshbarger said ACORN leaders "appear committed to effect reform and are on their way to preserving ACORN and its mission in a reduced size and scope." Harshbarger's report said that ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, should return to its roots, focusing on community organizing, and should hire an independent ethics officer to oversee an internal governance program that is underway.
The report, the product of a two-month investigation, said that ACORN's management had not moved fast enough to institute reforms after an alleged eight-year coverup by ACORN founder Wade Rathke of an embezzlement by his brother.
ACORN's leaders are "now reaping what Rathke sowed," Harshbarger wrote.
Videos of ACORN staffers offering advice to a woman and a man posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend triggered a firestorm of criticism this fall, with some ACORN employees appearing willing to support illegal schemes involving tax advice, misuse of public funds and illegal trafficking in children.
The videos "feed the impression that ACORN believes it is above the law," stated the Harshbarger report, intended as an independent examination of the issues.
"We did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff involved; in fact, no action, illegal or otherwise, was ever taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers," Harshbarger said in a statement. "Instead, the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN's long-standing management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures and a lack of onsite supervision."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a statement asking, "How surprising is it that a report paid for by ACORN exonerates them?"
Conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart called the report "a whitewashed 'internal investigation' by a Democrat Party hack from Massachusetts." Breitbart is being sued by ACORN along with James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who played the prostitute and her boyfriend in the videos. Breitbart posted the videos on his Web site.
Until the controversy over the videos, 10 percent of ACORN's funds came from federal government grants. In September, Congress blocked previously approved funds from going to ACORN.