Republican Party lawmaker wants Corbett to probe ACORN

| Thursday, June 11, 2009

HARRISBURG — A Delaware County lawmaker is asking his colleagues to co-sponsor a House resolution urging the state attorney general to investigate ACORN, an organization whose members are charged with voter registration fraud in Allegheny County and elsewhere.

"I believe the activities of this organization have raised significant questions, and my resolution asks that ACORN be investigated by the attorney general to determine whether they are in compliance with the law," Rep. Stephen Barrar, a Republican, wrote in a June 3 memo made public Wednesday.

Ali Kronley, a Pennsylvania spokeswoman for ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said the organization's quality control measures stopped the activities of seven people accused of crimes by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

"We have been fully cooperating," she said, noting the organization reported suspected problems to authorities in other states when similar allegations surfaced. Five of the seven accused in Pittsburgh have been held for trial, and hearings are scheduled for the other two.

Barrar said in an interview that one thing he wants Attorney General Tom Corbett to look at is ACORN's tax-exempt status as a nonprofit corporation. "If they are doing political activity, I don't think they should be able to be tax-exempt," he said.

"If there are allegations of wrongdoing, we'd be happy to look at it," said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Corbett. "We would need specific allegations or a fact pattern to investigate. We can't investigate an organization because someone thinks they've done something wrong."

Barrar told colleagues ACORN has begun a " 'Home Staying Campaign' in a number of major cities, which organizes individuals to trespass on foreclosed residential property. Their Web site indicates that there are plans to expand this program to encourage illegal activity in Pittsburgh."

"I have no idea what that's about," Kronley said. She said it is the "most successful anti-foreclosure program in the nation."

Separately, a state senator yesterday questioned ACORN's involvement in a coalition seeking increased state funding for schools.

The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, formed by dozens of education and community groups, on its Web site lists PA ACORN on its campaign steering committee. The coalition -- which includes the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Pennsylvania PTA and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia -- essentially backs Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to add $418 million from federal stimulus money to funding for school districts to use for basic education.

Sen. Kim Ward, a Hempfield Republican, said she finds it "offensive" that ACORN, a group accused of "questionable behavior on a national level," is involved in the state budget battle. Ward said it damages the coalition's credibility.

The coalition pushed to defeat Senate Bill 850, a budget proposal that severely cut spending and would not raise taxes, which passed the GOP-controlled Senate but was rejected by the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee.

"Anything connected to ACORN has to raise a concern to any American now," said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans.

But, said Chuck Ardo, Rendell's press secretary: "While ACORN may be part of the coalition, it has no direct involvement with the Department of Education or the administration. The critics are making a mountain out of a molehill, or more precisely, trying to make a mighty oak out of a little ACORN."

ACORN represents people in low-income areas with underfunded schools and those in middle-income areas facing spiraling property taxes, Kronley said. Seeking more money for schools "is not an extreme left position," Kronley said. ACORN has not lobbied for passage of education spending bills, she said.

Ron Cowell, president of the Education and Policy Leadership Center, a nonpartisan education policy group in Harrisburg, said ACORN's involvement in Harrisburg activities has been "minimal." ACORN gets electronic materials from the coalition to distribute and has participated in a few conference calls, he said.

"I'm not aware of anyone else asking the question at all," said Cowell, a former representative from Allegheny County. "It's not even been an issue."

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