Being Squirrelly About ACORN

By Natalie Gewargis

Oct 13, 2008 2:15pm

As reports pile up of voter registration fraud connected to ACORN — the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, a group that advocates for low-income voters – the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has sought to downplay his past ties with the group.

But in their efforts to do, Obama campaign officials found themselves forced last week to correct an erroneous assertion made on the campaign’s “Fight the Smears” webpage that “Barack was never an ACORN trainer and never worked for ACORN in any other capacity.”

That wasn’t true.

In fact, ACORN spokesman Lewis Goldberg told the New York Times that Obama conducted two unpaid leadership training sessions for ACORN’s Chicago affiliate in the late 1990s.

The “Fight the Smears” website now asserts, "Fact: ACORN never hired Obama as a trainer, organizer, or any type of employee.”

Key word: hired.

Goldberg told the Times that Obama’s work for ACORN was unpaid.

You can see the old version HERE and the new version HERE.

Moreover, Obama also represented ACORN and other groups in the mid 1990s as an attorney suing the state of Illinois to uphold the federal Motor Voter law. The governor and other officials of the State of Illinois were refusing to comply with the law on the ground that it was unconstitutional.

**

Further confusing the length and depth of the Obama-ACORN relationship was the discovery by conservative bloggers of an error-riddled story in the journal Social Policy featuring not only a 2004 photograph of Obama and ACORN members but an essay called “Case Study: Chicago- The Barack Obama Campaign” written Toni Foulkes, a Chicago ACORN Leader.

"Obama started building the base years before,” Foulkes wrote in her 2004 essay. “For instance, ACORN noticed him when he was organizing on the far south side of the city with the Developing Communities Project. He was a very good organizer. When he returned from law school, we asked him to help us with a lawsuit to challenge the state of Illinois’ refusal to abide by the National Voting Rights Act, also known as motor voter. Allied only with the state of Mississippi, Illinois had been refusing to allow mass-based voter registration according to the new law. Obama took the case, known as ACORN vs. Edgar (the name of the Republican governor at the time) and we won. Obama then went on to run a voter registration project with Project VOTE in 1992 that made it possible for Carol Moseley Braun to win the Senate that year. Project VOTE delivered 50,000 newly registered voters in that campaign (ACORN delivered about 5000 of them).”

Foulkes messed up the chronology in that account, making it sound earlier than it had occurred. The Motor Voter Law was passed in 1993, the lawsuit was brought in 1995.

Additionally, press accounts from the time of the Illinois Project Vote voter registration drive put the number of new voters registered at 150,000, not 50,000.

Still, that doesn’t seem to square with the Obama campaign’s assertion that "Fact: ACORN was not part of Project Vote, the successful voter registration drive Barack ran in 1992."

Foulkes went on to note that “since then,” ACORN had “invited Obama to our leadership training sessions to run the session on power every year, and, as a result, many of our newly developing leaders got to know him before he ever ran for office. Thus it was natural for many of us to be active volunteers in his first campaign for State Senate and then his failed bid for U.S. Congress in 1996. By the time he ran for U.S. Senate, we were old friends."

Obama’s losing congressional campaign was in 2000, not 1996.

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Further adding to the confusion were rather questionable charges coming from the campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which has sought to portray Obama’s training sessions in just about the most negative light imaginable.

In a conference call, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis urged reporters to ask Obama of the ACORN training sessions, “What were you teaching them? Were you teaching them how to evade the law?”

"Were you teaching them how to evade the law?" ???

Excuse me?

Davis also incorrectly asserted that when Obama represented ACORN he was standing “against the State of Illinois and the federal government.”

Actually, the Justice Department was a co-plaintiff with ACORN in the suit.

**

Obama backers today pointed out that McCain in February 2006 participated in a Miami rally in support of McCain’s immigration reform bill that was sponsored by ACORN as well as other groups, according to the press release. For whatever it’s worth, a photo from that rally can be seen HERE.

– jpt

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