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GOP Goes Nuts on ACORN — and Fox Eats It Up

Update: A few hours after this item was posted, the AP reported that ACORN’s Las Vegas offices were raided by the FBI.

When the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, announced yesterday that it had registered more than 1.3 million new voters nationwide so far this year, it was a cause either for celebration or dismay — depending on where you stand.

In theory, of course, voter registration is supposed to be a good thing, and ACORN has long been commended for its ability to effectively appeal to young, poor, working class, elderly and minority voters around the country.

But this set of community organizers is also a favorite target of the Republican Party and, most recently, of Fox News. As the Huffington Post recently reported, Fox has been hammering Obama’s alleged connections with the community-organizing group -– much as if it were charging that he’s consorting with terrorists. (Leave it to Gov. Sarah Palin to make Fox look restrained.)

But ACORN? When did grass-roots organizers trying to increase political participation through voter registration become something political candidates had to distance themselves from?

It all started with the GOP’s accusations that ACORN promotes voter fraud — a charge it’s been making for years but which it’s stepped up this campaign season with a vengeance.

Readers even cited the charges in commenting on my last story, which was about how actual voter fraud -– the kind that affects elections -– doesn’t really exist.

What the voter fraud fear-mongers neglect to mention, however, is that in most cases, the charges against ACORN have not been substantiated. Which means there’s no reason to believe they were ever true.

As we know from the U.S. attorney firing scandal under Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, chief prosecutors are not above pressuring their underlings to go after voter fraud that doesn’t exist.

But the most important reason why the unsubstantiated charges against ACORN are misleading is that even in the few cases where it turned out that people were wrongly registered, there is no evidence that anyone actually turned up on Election Day to vote on their behalf.

A voter registration may be invalid because someone signing up accidentally provided a wrong address or phone number; or because a worker provided false information.

But in the cases cited as evidence of voter fraud by ACORN -– most notably one cited as the worst case of voter fraud in the state of Washington, where seven people were convicted last year –- the prosecutor himself noted that it was a scheme by a few individuals to make money. No one was actually trying to influence the outcome of the election.

It turned out that workers who were paid to register voters had copied names out of phone books rather than going out and doing their jobs of signing up real voters. Of course, none of those people showed up to vote.

Seeking to prevent any more such scandals, ACORN officials told me the organization now has workers personally call each newly-registered voter to double-check that the registration is genuine. That’s a big workload for a non-profit organization run on a shoestring, but it became a necessary effort to fend off the relentless Republican attacks.

Still, it hasn’t stopped them. An announcer on “Fox and Friends” recently described ACORN as having “a long and storied past involving voter fraud across the country, widespread” and noted “Obama’s long-term relationship with the radical group.”

In fact, Obama was one of several lawyers representing a large group of organizations—all siding with the U.S. Dept. of Justice -– who sued the governor of Illinois for failing to follow the federal motor-voter law.

Not surprisingly, Fox, like the GOP operatives attacking ACORN, neglected to tell its audience the rest of the story.

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