Going after ACORN may be like shooting fish in a barrel lately -- but jumpy lawmakers used a bazooka to do it last week and may have blown up some of their longtime allies in the process.
The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to "any organization" that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.
In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who's Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.
The language was written by the GOP and filed as a "motion to recommit" in the House, where it passed 345-75.
POGO is reaching out to its members to identify other companies who have engaged in the type of misconduct that would make them ineligible for federal funds.
Grayson then intends to file that list in the legislative history that goes along with the bill so that judges can reference it when determining whether a company should be denied federal funds.
The Florida freshman is asking for direct assistance. He has set up a Google spreadsheet where people can suggest contractors who have been charged with violations and include a link to a media or government report documenting the alleged transgression.
The weapons manufacturers might have a better line of defense in court, however. Immediately after the bill passed, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), a constitutional whiz, noted that the measure appeared to be a "bill of attainder" -- specifically targeting a company or organization or individual -- and is therefore specifically barred by the Constitution. If it's not targeted at one group, then Northrop Grumman is in trouble.
Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Congressional Research Service on Tuesday asking it to clarify, among other things, if the Defund ACORN Act is constitutional.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America