ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was an organization set up in 1970 to advocate for low income families by working on issues like neighborhood safety, voter registration, access to good education, health care and affordable housing. Like every non-profit organization set up to do good, it wasn’t perfect, but it tried to help the most disadvantaged in society by educating them about their democratic and legal rights.
Unfortunately for Republicans, helping the poor and disenfranchised take part in voting has never worked out well for them, so enormous efforts went into discrediting and smearing the organization in order to get rid of it. During the third presidential debate in 2008, John McCain said that ACORN was “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”
McCain was referring to allegations of voter fraud – incidents where voter registration efforts had garnered apparently fraudulent registration cards, some for fictional characters like “Mickey Mouse.” The problem with the allegations were pretty blatant – namely fraudulent registration cards being about the worst way to commit voter fraud possible. Speaking to Prospect Magazine, Wendy Weiser, director of the voting rights program at NYU’s Brennan Center of Justice, stated that, “The only way Mickey Mouse could vote is if he shows up with a federally approved form of ID….And if they wanted to affect the election, they’d have to have multiple addresses and do it an incredible amount of times.” Weiser added, “It’s an incredibly stupid way to commit fraud, and it’s absolutely impossible to determine the result of the election that way.”
The fraudulent registration cards were not actually about voter fraud, but people “ripping off their employers”, as ACORN spokesperson Brian Kettenring argued. While McCain warned that it was one of the “greatest frauds in voter history”, no evidence of actual voter fraud ever emerged. FactCheck.org found that:
Neither ACORN nor its employees have been found guilty of, or even charged with, casting fraudulent votes. What a McCain-Palin Web ad calls “voter fraud” is actually voter registration fraud. Several ACORN canvassers have been found guilty of faking registration forms and others are being investigated. But the evidence that has surfaced so far shows they faked forms to get paid for work they didn’t do, not to stuff ballot boxes.
While the organization did have some quite serious internal problems with accounting, cases of embezzlement and misleading data, the targeting of ACORN by right-wing activist groups was, as former U.S attorney David Iglesias stated, “a scare tactic” motivated by politics and not genuine concern for actual fraud.
Nevertheless, a concerted effort by the activist groups and the right-wing media resulted in the disbanding of ACORN in 2010 after numerous investigations and sting operations (the most famous being James O’Keefe’s doctored video of himself supposedly dressed a pimp asking ACORN employees for assistance in avoiding tax, human smuggling and child prostitution).
Fast forward to 2013 and the right have a new target – ‘The United Labor Unions Council Local 100’, a New Orleans-based nonprofit, that announced last month it would take part in a multi-state “navigator” drive to help people enroll in President Obama’s health care plan. Latching on to the fact that the labor council was established by ACORN founder Wade Rathke, right wing activists and media outlets have gone to work to discredit the organization.
An article posted on FoxNews.com by Perry Chiaramonte titled “Ex-ACORN operatives helping roll out ObamaCare” is a perfect example of the rightwing dishonesty and misleading reporting that has plagued America in recent years, reporting that supports power rather than challenges it, and attacks those least able to defend themselves with unsubstantiated nonsense that sticks because those it attacks have few resources to fight back. With so many factual errors, assumptions, and disingenuous insinuations, it’s hard to take the article seriously at all, but it does serve as a useful tool in understanding how Fox News and other right-wing outlets distort reality to serve their own interests.
Here’s a look at the Fox piece, broken down to its key points and countered after every misleading statement (the segments from the article are in bold):
“A group formed from the ruins of ACORN is hard at work signing people up for ObamaCare, and may be collecting taxpayer cash for their work despite Congress’ efforts to cut the organization and its affiliates off from government funding, a watchdog group charged.”
Firstly (and most importantly), there is NO EVIDENCE that The United Labor Unions Council Local 100 (ULUCL100) has received any money from the federal government. A list of recipients of navigator grants for assisting people buy health insurance can be found on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services website here, and the ULUCL100 is nowhere to be found. What evidence does Chiriamonte produce for his assertion? A single blog post by Wade Rathke discussing a meeting he had with Rosa Hines, the ULUCL100 Louisiana State Director where they discussed how cheaply they could get information out about Obamacare should the government fund them.
Secondly, the group was not founded from ‘the ruins of ACORN’. The group was independently founded in 1980, 33 years ago, while ACORN was very much alive and kicking.
“At a time when our government has ceased functioning due to an appropriations gap, it is ironic that America’s tax dollars are being doled out to an entity whose poor stewardship of our funds was well-established by Congress,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Washington.”
While it is affiliated, United Labor Unions Council Local 100 is not ACORN, so the conflation of the two is disingenuous. It is worth noting that Dan Epstein worked for the libertarian-leaning Republican Darrel Issa, and heads up a highly dubious Koch brothers funded ‘non profit’ that singled out ACORN upon its conception.
“The government has given out $67 million in Navigator grants to help with the controversial rollout of ObamaCare. It was not clear if Local 100 got a grant of its own, but it has set up a help center with Southern United Neighborhoods, a charity founded in March 2010 with many former ACORN members, to enroll people in ObamaCare. Southern United Neighborhoods received a Navigator grant of $486,123.”
If by “not clear” Chiriamonte means “did not”, then this statement is correct. Notwithstanding, there’s nothing “controversial” about the rollout of ObamaCare. It is a law, not a bill up for a vote, or a policy proposal. Secondly, Chiramonte offers no evidence whatsoever in regards to his assertion the Southern United Neighborhoods was founded with “many former ACORN members”. And even if it was, so what?
“Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who heads an oversight committee investigating the Navigator grant program, said several grass roots groups are getting in on the program, despite having no track record — or in the case of the ULC, having a poor one. He blames what he called a rush to implement the Affordable Care Act, as ObamaCare is formally known.
“With the administration rushing to hand out billions of dollars for the health law to countless groups, the potential for fraud and abuse is exceptionally high,” Murphy, who also serves as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, told FoxNews.com. “The law’s rollout has been a disaster, and we will continue our aggressive oversight of Navigators and all grant recipients on behalf of the American people to ensure taxpayer dollars are not misused or wasted.””
Again, given the ULUCL100 hasn’t actually received any money from the federal government, Murphy’s point is meaningless. Chiriamonte provides no examples of organizations having “no track record”, and does not make clear what the potential for fraud and abuse is. The Human Health Services states that Navigators “Are trained to provide unbiased information in a culturally competent manner to consumers about health insurance, the new Health Insurance Marketplaces, qualified health plans, and public programs including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” Unless Navigators have friends within the insurance industry and are receiving kickbacks, the scope for abuse appears to be very small (and note, libertarian, right-wing ‘watchdogs’ aren’t exactly well known for monitoring insurance companies).
“Matthew Vadum, author of “Subversion, Inc: How Obama’s ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers,” said the group and its progeny cannot be trusted with people’s sensitive information, such as what may be collected in the ObamaCare enrollment process.
“ACORN is also infamous for hiring felons without bothering to do background checks, storming hospital emergency rooms and city council chambers, using voter fraud to turn graveyards across the nation into Democratic electoral strongholds, using mob violence against bank executives and other shakedown targets, and for ruthlessly exploiting its own employees and going to court to seek an exemption from minimum wage laws,” Vadum recently wrote.”
Regardless of Vadum’s ludicrous assertions about ACORN, the organization is not the ULUCL100, and the ULUCL100 hasn’t gotten a Navigator grant, so the point is, again, completely meaningless.
Chiriamonte’s piece underlines how dangerous an organization like Fox News is. No serious news outlet would publish something with so many glaring mistakes and outright lies, yet it has remained online for 12 days without a single retraction. But then Fox has never cared about the truth, or fact checking, or fairness. It exists to convince middle Americans that black people and immigrants are destroying America, while portraying the rich and powerful as heroic patriots.
Fox News is a sham organization full of sham journalists getting rich through lying to the people it pretends to speak for, and Chiriamonte has provided America with a brilliant working example of just how it’s done.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.