Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tammy Baldwin's ACORN vote justifiable

Rep. Tammy Baldwin has been taking some heat as of late for her contentious vote against a bill that passed Congress this week that strips federal funding from the embattled non-profit ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). The group, seen as a "liberal menace" by most on the right, is conducting an investigation into its own misdeeds after some of its offices were caught giving advice to undercover citizen-journalists posing as a prostitute and her pimp.

ACORN also received strong criticism during last year's presidential election. The group had been paying independent contractors to help with voter registration drives. Some offices paid these contractors on a quota -- thus they began filling out fake registration applications, hoping to get paid for work they hadn't actually done. Though they were caught by the organization itself, many on the far right were infuriated with what happened, and touted it as voter fraud being perpetrated by the left.

Of course, for that to have been true, these fake names would have had to have actually tried to vote in the election. With names being registered as "Mickey Mouse" and "Donald Duck," it wasn't likely that anything like that was going to happen. These fake names were registered so that the workers could get some extra cash -- not so they could commit fraud.

Still, these two incidents portray the potential for offices of ACORN taking things out of hand. ACORN itself on the national level wasn't promoting anything wrong, but the individual offices that were responsible for these misdeeds weren't being monitored close enough either.

ACORN had been slated to take part in the 2010 decennial census, which will have an impact on Congressional redistricting as well as how federal money will be allocated over the next ten years. Following the undercover prostitution sting, Congress passed a resolution disallowing ACORN from taking part in the census, and removed indefinitely any possible funding that the group could have received in the future . Tammy Baldwin had voted against the resolution, and thus received the scorn of many in the state, including from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Unknown to most, however, is that ACORN wouldn't have taken part in the actual operations of the census; the government hires people directly for that. Non-profit organizations like ACORN are granted funds mostly for getting-the-word-out projects, intended to promote the census for people like Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann who says she will not take part in it -- an offense that could carry a fine of $5,000.

ACORN has had its problems, and is conducting an internal investigation into them. A resolution to remove the group's funding until those problems had been resolved might have been reasonable. But the resolution passed by Congress suspends any federal money indefinitely, even though the group has done many wonderful things for low-income families.

We shouldn't punish an organization for the misdeeds of a select few within it. We can liken this to the controversy within the Catholic Church in our country. Many within that organization had been engaging in inappropriate behavior with underage children, and those who had done so were punished for it. But the Church itself was never punished by the government, and never once did anyone argue that its tax exemptions (for being a religious organization) be removed because of those misdeeds.

Nor should it have been brought up: the Church didn't do anything wrong as an organization, but still worked tirelessly to rid itself of that problem internally. ACORN is doing the exact same thing (though it should be noted that the number of instances that ACORN has had isn't nearly as much as the Catholic Church's); and while it shouldn't receive funding until it figures out how to fix its messes, it shouldn't be denied funding indefinitely either.

Tammy Baldwin was right to vote against the resolution on cutting ACORN funding. A more appropriate resolution would have recognized ACORN's contributions to our nation and expressed the urgent need for the organization to fix itself before expecting any more federal dollars. Overall, the organization is one that helps people enormously. Tammy Baldwin recognizes this, and shouldn't be hounded for her decision based on that observation.

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