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Obama blamed for ACORN's role in census

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Pennsylvania's top Republican Party official Thursday criticized President Obama for "trying to inject politics" into the 2010 U.S. Census, a charge the Census Bureau called "baseless and inaccurate."

Party head Bob Gleason accused Obama of "enlisting" the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now to help conduct the census. But the bureau denied that, saying ACORN is one of hundreds of "National Partners" — along with Delta Airlines, FedEx, the AFL-CIO and General Mills — who agreed to provide free advertising and other services. ACORN signed on last month and was a partner for the 2000 census, the bureau said.

Republicans have accused ACORN of voter fraud for its registration efforts during the past three elections. Criticism reached a fever pitch in the 2008 presidential race, with supporters of Republican nominee John McCain decrying the organization at rallies.

A U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee heard testimony yesterday from GOP lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh of Mt. Lebanon and a fired ACORN employee, alleging the organization falsified voter records and violated federal tax and campaign finance laws.

Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., called for a hearing focusing on ACORN, "so we can get to the bottom of this." Jim Sensenbrenner, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, issued a statement echoing Conyers' call.

"I'm still waiting to hear about one voter who voted and wasn't supposed to," ACORN spokesman Scott Levinson said in an interview after Heidelbaugh's testimony.

Gleason's statement about the census partnership shows continued frustration with the group.

"President Obama is trying to interject politics into the 2010 U.S. census, hoping to increase the reach of his party throughout the country," Gleason said. "It will be tough to trust ACORN's counts or any data they submit."

The bureau said ACORN would have no role in counting people and submit no data to the census. It said partners encourage people to mail forms, and post information about Census Bureau programs on Web sites and in newsletters, among other services. None of the organizations is paid for the work.

"Any charge or claim that a Census Bureau partner could influence or have direct input into census operations is baseless and inaccurate," said Census spokesman Stephen Buckner. "The sole entity that will conduct the 2010 census is the U.S. Census Bureau."

"I believe it is still extremely questionable," said Michael Barkley, state GOP spokesman. "It seems strange that they're involved at all."

ACORN's work would include distributing the bureau's educational materials, donating space for Census employee training and sending an endorsement of the 2010 Census to the 400,000 member families ACORN claims, Levinson said.

Increasing the number of people who respond to the census by mail, which reduces the need for field workers to knock on doors, saved an estimated $85 million in 2000, according to the bureau.

The bureau hires 1.4 million people for the national head count. Each applicant submits to a criminal background check, which includes fingerprinting. None of the work is outsourced, Buckner said.

Census data helps determine the number of U.S. representatives in states; the shape of legislative districts; and how the federal government allocates $300 billion in local aid each year, among other uses. The operation is among the government's largest, and one of the few specific federal projects the U.S. Constitution mandates.




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