The Census Bureau late this afternoon “severed” its relationship with the non-profit housing and grassroots community organizing group ACORN for the 2010 Census.
ACORN – the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now – bills itself as “the nation's largest community organization of low and moderate income families.”
Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said officials in the bureau, which is part of the Department of Commerce, had been concerned with news reports about ACORN for awhile and “had been monitoring them.”
Buckner said recent videotapes posted on BigGovernment.com and broadcast on Fox News — showing a young man and young woman pretending to be a pimp and prostitute, declaring themselves such and apparently able to secure the help of ACORN employees in Washington D.C. , and Baltimore, in obtaining housing – was “the tipping point.”
It was “cumulative,” Buckner said, “but certainly the recent activity didn’t help.”
In a letter to ACORN President Maude Hurd, Census Bureau director Robert Groves wrote that, while “not decisive factors in this decision, recent events concerning several local offices of ACORN have added to the worsening negative perceptions of ACORN and its affiliation with our partnership efforts.”
Groves wrote that the Census Bureau no longer has “confidence that our national partnership agreement is being effectively managed” through ACORN’s many local offices.
“Their affiliation caused sufficient concern with the general public,” said Buckner, so that ACORN outreach on behalf of the Census would be “a distraction from our mission, and would maybe even be a discouragement” for participation.
ACORN encouraged some minority and poor populations to participate in the Census, Buckner said, telling them it was “important to participate in and safe to participate in.”
There’s a “correlation” between those who are poor and those “mistrustful of government,” he said. But he said the Census Bureau officials are confident they can reach those populations with their 80,000 other partners.
In a written statement, Alton Bennett, the president of ACORN housing, and Mike Shea, the executive director, said they "were appalled and angry to see the video of two Washington, D.C. employees offering advice on how to operate an illegal enterprise to keep it hidden from the government. While no transaction took place – no loan documents were signed or submitted, no bank loans were arranged, no new business was established – this is not how we behave. All ACORN Housing staff members undergo rigorous training and are expected to comply with high standards for ethical behavior and compliance with the law."
But that said, Bennett and Shea say the BigGovernment.com "video tape is slanted to misinform the public about ACORN Housing. The people who made this tape went to at least five other ACORN Housing offices where they were turned away or where ACORN Housing employees responded by calling the police. That is not mentioned on the tape – it is part of a long-term plan to smear ACORN Housing for political reasons and provide entertainment in the process. But that does not excuse the behavior of the employees. We have fired them and are initiating an internal review of practices and reminding all staff of their obligation to uphold the highest legal and ethical standards."
Rep. Charles Boustany, Jr., of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Oversight Subcommittee for the House Ways and Means Committee, called for a subcommittee hearing to "investigate ACORN’s activities in providing tax advice and tax preparation services, as well as whether ACORN has conducted activities inconsistent with the requirements for retaining tax-exempt status."
*This post has been updated.