Most sales organizations pressure their staffs in order to boost production. From the lowliest telemarketing firms to the highest-end car dealerships, management uses both positive and negative incentives to get more product out the door. One of the best examples of this in film came in Glengarry Glen Ross, the seminal David Mamet film that served as an updated version of Death of a Salesman. Alec Baldwin delivers the message from the home office in this clip (strong language):
Of course, in sales organizations, this approach makes some sort of sense, even though it occasionally results in abuse, as Mamet starkly portrays in this film. Applying these principles to other efforts makes less sense, especially when working in activities that involve public trust. ACORN apparently took a page from Mamet in its high-pressure tactics in boosting voter registrations, according to its workers:
Pushed to meet daily quotas and bullied by bosses if they didn’t, Ohio ACORN workers faked voter registrations, signed up people more than once and even paid off registrants to keep from being fired, its canvassers told The Post. …
“We had meetings every morning where they’d go over your quota; they’d yell at you if you were low,” said [single mother Teshika Elder, 21]. “They’d sit us down and say if you didn’t do better, they’d suspend you. They’d say, ‘Try harder next time,’ [and] if you didn’t get it, you’d be fired.”
Desperate canvassers sometimes resorted to trading cigarettes, cash and food in exchange for registrations, according to Elder and two other former ACORN workers, Jaymes Sanford, 18, and Selvin Cunningham, 23.
Some voters were signed up more than once, and worried – or lazy – canvassers sometimes filled out bogus cards, they said.
Again, these tactics make sense if one is running a sales organization. They don’t make any sense if ACORN merely wanted to contribute to the betterment of the community by assisting people to register. That doesn’t require quotas or browbeating to accomplish, but simply supervision to ensure that ACORN workers didn’t abuse the process.
Why was ACORN so insistent on browbeating its workers and turning the effort into a boiler-room operation? They valued something other than community betterment, and they saw fraud as beneficial to their actual goals. That’s why they put all of the incentives towards unrealistic production — and left themselves room to use these workers as patsies when caught.
Their tactics with their workers reveal ACORN’s goals as something very different than what they’re claiming now. The treatment Elder received belies their community-oriented rhetoric and exposes something significantly less beneficent at the heart of ACORN.