WASHINGTON ― During the Barack Obama years, Republicans in Congress grew accustomed to kicking around one particular organization that advocated for the poor ― a group they claimed had been involved in a nefarious conspiracy to steal the 2008 election.
After nearly a decade, lawmakers are still at it, even though Obama is gone and the organization no longer exists.
On Thursday, Congress approved a 2,000-plus-page government spending bill. One small item in the legislation bans federal funds from being spent to support a group called the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
Republicans loathed the group. They accused it ― baselessly ― of engineering a campaign of mass voter fraud and thus rigging the 2008 election in favor of then-candidate Barack Obama. Republicans hated ACORN so much that they effectively killed it all the way back in 2009 by blocking federal funding to the organization, which helped poor people register to vote and advocated for social services like affordable housing. Many Democrats also voted in favor of the original ban.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the committee that drafted the spending bill, was unaware of the provision. He said it might be leftover language from previous bills that staffers had inserted.
“I don’t remember this ever being discussed one time,” Cole told HuffPost. “It wasn’t discussed at a hearing. I don’t remember it being discussed at any meeting with my Democratic colleagues and counterparts who negotiated the bill.”
A Republican aide said leftover provisions like this one are often carried forward automatically until lawmakers decide to remove them. Congress has repeatedly approved similar provisions that specifically target the group in the years since ACORN disbanded.
The section says: “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.”
ACORN, of course, has no affiliates, subsidiaries, or allies because it does not exist. “Successors” is not a legally defined term in corporate or nonprofit law.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), another member of the House Appropriations Committee, which drafted the so-called omnibus bill, pointed out that ACORN does not currently exist. “They did it in!” she said.
“Banning funding for ACORN? That was like eight fake conspiracy theories ago,” one former Hill staffer told HuffPost.
The bipartisan attack on ACORN’s funding in 2009 came after right-wing con man James O’Keefe aired a selectively edited video featuring the group on Fox News. The video appeared to show ACORN employees helping O’Keefe deal with paperwork problems associated with running an underage prostitution ring. Multiple government investigations ultimately cleared ACORN, and O’Keefe eventually agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit from one of the people he filmed. Under the settlement, O’Keefe formally acknowledged that he did not know that the man involved ― who had been portrayed as a willing abettor to O’Keefe’s fictional illegal operation ― had in fact called the police shortly after speaking with O’Keefe.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who led the 2009 congressional attack on ACORN from the House Oversight Committee, said it made sense to continue to ban ACORN’s funding.
“It was proven to be a criminal enterprise,” Issa told HuffPost on Thursday. “Is there any reason to continue to fund it?”
HuffPost pointed out that ACORN no longer exists, but Issa noted that the legislation also targets affiliates or successors of the organization.
“Plenty of organizations change no one in the hierarchy, none of the tactics, but change the name,” Issa said.
But he said he was unaware of any ACORN successors.
“That’s why you’re an investigative reporter,” he said.