ACORN: Where's the RICO prosecution?

The New York Times reveals internal ACORN report written by one of its counsels that anticipates federal prosecution for misuse of charitable funds.  Project Vote, which is a tax-exempt subsidiary, transferred contributions to ACORN for partisan activities, which amounts to tax fraud.  It should give the Department of Justice plenty of reason to conduct a full-scale RICO investigation into numerous irregularities:

The June 18 report, written by Elizabeth Kingsley, a Washington lawyer, spells out her concerns about potentially improper use of charitable dollars for political purposes; money transfers among the affiliates; and potential conflicts created by employees working for multiple affiliates, among other things.

It also offers a different account of the embezzlement of almost $1 million by the brother of Acorn’s founder, Wade Rathke, than the one the organization gave in July, when word of the theft became public. …

Ms. Kingsley’s concerns about the way Acorn affiliates work together could fuel the controversy over Acorn’s voter registration efforts, which are largely underwritten by an affiliated charity, Project Vote. Project Vote hires Acorn to do voter registration work on its behalf, and the two groups say they have registered 1.3 million voters this year.

As a federally tax-exempt charity, Project Vote is subject to prohibitions on partisan political activity. But Acorn, which is a nonprofit membership corporation under Louisiana law, though subject to federal taxation, is not bound by the same restrictions.

In fact, it looks like the distinctions between ACORN and Project Vote were nothing short of a scam.  ACORN employees filled all of the executive PV positions.  The last independent director at PV left over a decade ago.  People listed as board members for PV don’t know that they’re on it, and more than one never heard of Project Vote.

With more than a dozen states launching investigations into ACORN activities, its defenders claim that the national organization doesn’t coordinate efforts at the local level.  However, the internal report shows that local ACORN organizations don’t hold their own board meetings.  No minutes of meetings are kept, and no evidence that local directors have independent control exists.  If local directors don’t bother to hold meetings, it strongly suggests that all activities get directed by the national organization — which brings us back to potential RICO prosecution for coordinating voter-registration fraud.

Yesterday, I participated in an RNC conference call on ACORN, and Jazz Shaw asked whether third-party registration efforts should be banned and registration efforts returned to county registrars instead.  Danny Diaz said no and that many organizations handle this task responsibly, but I wonder whether Jazz isn’t correct in this instance.  Citizens who want to vote can certainly put forth the effort themselves to get to the county registrar, and those registrars can do their own outreach efforts while employing people under much closer supervision than given by outfits like ACORN.

If we value the franchise enough to keep fraudsters from diluting it, then we need to put an end to third-party registrations.  And if we detect fraud, we need to prosecute it zealously — which should mean that the Department of Justice should start a RICO effort against ACORN, which looks a lot less like community organizers than organized crime.

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