Re­ally? Cony­ers sug­gests probe of ACORN

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

In an star­tling par­ti­san shift, House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Cony­ers Jr. on March 19 pro­posed hold­ing hear­ings on claims the lib­eral ac­tivist group ACORN en­gaged in a pat­tern of crimes rang­ing from voter fraud to a mob-style “pro­tec­tion” racket.

Mr. Cony­ers, Michi­gan Demo­crat and fierce par­ti­san, sug­gested a con­gres­sional probe af­ter scathing tes­ti­mony about the As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tions for Re­form Now (ACORN) dur­ing a hear­ing on var­i­ous vot­ing is­sues re­lated to the 2008 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Mr. Cony­ers called the ac­cu­sa­tions “a pretty se­ri­ous mat­ter.”

“I think that it would be some­thing that would be worth our time,” he said dur­ing a hear­ing. “We’ve never had one per­son rep­re­sent­ing ACORN be­fore the com­mit­tee. [. . . ] I think in all fair­ness we ought to re­ally ex­am­ine it.”

The tes­ti­mony by Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Hei­del­baugh ac­cused the non­profit group of vi­o­lat­ing tax, cam­paign-fi­nance and other laws by, among other things, shar­ing with the Barack Obama cam­paign a list of the Demo­crat’s maxed-out cam­paign donors so ACORN could use it to so­licit them for a get-out-the-vote drive.

She also tes­ti­fied that the Demo­crat-al­lied group pro­vided lib­eral causes with protest-forhire ser­vices and co­erced do­na­tions from tar­gets of demon­stra­tions through a shake­down it called the “mus­cle for the money” pro­gram.

Ms. Hei­del­baugh, a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion, spear­headed an un­suc­cess­ful law­suit last year seek­ing a court in­junc­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia against ACORN’s voter-regis­tra­tion drive for the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She ap­peared as a wit­ness at the re­quest of Repub­li­can com­mit­tee mem­bers.

Mr. Cony­ers, who is known for his drive to con­tinue in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, pre­vi­ously de­fended ACORN. In Oc­to­ber, he con­demned an FBI voter fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­get­ing the group. He ques­tioned whether it was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated to ham­per a voter-regis­tra­tion drive tar­get­ing groups likely to sup­port Mr. Obama’s can­di­dacy.

But Mr. Cony­ers’ shift was met by re­sis­tance from fel­low Democrats on the com­mit­tee, and it was un­clear whether a hear­ing would be sched­uled.

Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, New York Demo­crat and chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary sub­com­mit­tee on the Con­sti­tu­tion, civil rights and civil lib­er­ties that hosted the March 19 hear­ing, sug­gested there was not enough “cred­i­ble ev­i­dence” to war­rant a hear­ing fo­cused ex­clu­sively on ACORN.

Rep. Melvin Watt said he would con­cede that ACORN and some of its mem­bers en­gaged in voter fraud. But he said voter fraud was al­ready cov­ered by ex­ist­ing law and Congress has not fur­ther role in the mat­ter.

“I’m not com­ing to a hear­ing to have a trial on ACORN. That’s not my job,” the North Carolina Demo­crat said.

Repub­li­can com­mit­tee mem­ber Rep. Steve King of Iowa said get­ting the Demo­crat-led Congress to take action against ACORN “is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult but I am en­cour­aged by John Cony­ers’ re­quest.”

The ac­cu­sa­tions against the group, which were based en­tirely on sworn court tes­ti­mony late last year by ACORN whistle­blower Anita Mon­Crief.

No ACORN of­fi­cials tes­ti­fied at the hear­ing, but they have said none of the charges are true and dis­miss Ms. Mon­Crief as a dis­grun­tled, low-level em­ployee who was fired for steal­ing money from the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Kevin Whe­lan, ACORN deputy po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor, did not re­turn a call for com­ment on March 19.

Ms. Mon­Crief worked for years as a clerk at the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. of­fice of ACORN-af­fil­i­ated Project Vote be­fore be­ing fired for charg­ing about $2,000 in per­sonal ex­penses on an ACORN credit card.

She said the hear­ing — she at­tended but did not tes­tify — was an ex­tremely par­ti­san ex­er­cise ex­cept for Mr. Cony­ers’ sup­port for fur­ther hear­ings.

“I thought that was re­ally won­der­ful be­cause he took a stand that I re­ally didn’t think was go­ing to come from that side,” Ms. Mon­Crief, a reg­is­tered Demo­crat, said af­ter the hear­ing.

GETTY IM­AGES

Will­ing to take a look? Rep. John Cony­ers

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