Cony­ers backs off probe of ACORN prac­tices

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

House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Cony­ers Jr. has backed off his plan to in­ves­ti­gate pur­ported wrong­do­ing by the lib­eral ac­tivist group ACORN, say­ing “pow­ers that be” put the ki­bosh on the idea.

Mr. Cony­ers, Michi­gan Demo­crat, ear­lier bucked his party leaders by call­ing for hear­ings on ac­cu­sa­tions the As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Re­form Now (ACORN) has com­mit­ted crimes rang­ing from voter fraud to a mob-style “pro­tec­tion” racket.

“The pow­ers that be de­cided against it,” Mr. Cony­ers told The Wash­ing­ton Times as he left the House cham­bers on June 25.

The chair­man de­clined to elab­o­rate, shrug­ging off ques­tions about who told him how to run his com­mit­tee and give the Demo­crat-al­lied group a pass.

Mr. Cony­ers’ of­fice, con­tacted later by The Times with fol­lowup ques­tions, also de­clined to elab­o­rate.

Pittsburgh lawyer Heather Hei­del­baugh, whose tes­ti­mony about ACORN at a March 19 hear­ing on vot­ing is­sues prompted Mr. Cony­ers to call for a probe, said she was per­plexed by Mr. Cony­ers’ ex­pla­na­tion for his change of heart.

“If the chair of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee can­not hold a hear­ing if he wants to, [then] who are the pow­ers that he is be­holden to?” she said. “Is it the lead­er­ship, is it the White House, is it con­trib- utors? Who is ‘the power?’ ”

The com­ment spurred sim­i­lar ques­tions by House Repub­li­cans, who asked whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in­volved in block­ing the probe.

“Chair­man Cony­ers has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ex­plain who is block­ing this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and why. Is it Speaker Pelosi? Oth­ers in the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship? Who in Congress is cov­er­ing up ACORN’s cor­rup­tion?” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can.

The of­fice of Mrs. Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, did not re­spond to ques­tions about Mr. Cony­ers’ com­ments.

Capi­tol Hill had bris­tled at the prospect of hear­ings be­cause it threat­ened to rekin­dle crit­i­cism of the fi­nan­cial ties and close co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paign and ACORN and its sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tions Cit­i­zens Ser­vices Inc. and Project Vote.

The groups came un­der fire dur­ing the cam­paign af­ter probes into sus­pected voter fraud in a se­ries of pres­i­den­tial bat­tle­ground states, in­clud­ing Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan, New Mex­ico and Ne­vada.

ACORN and its af­fil­i­ates are cur­rently the tar­get of at least 14 law­suits re­lated to voter fraud in the 2008 elec­tion and a Rack­e­teer In­flu­enced and Cor­rupt Or­ga­ni­za­tions (RICO) Act com­plaint filed by for­mer ACORN mem­bers.

The group’s leaders have con­sis­tently de­nied any wrong­do­ing and pre­vi­ously said they wel­comed a con­gres­sional probe.

The group did not re­spond to ques­tions about Mr. Cony­ers be­ing con­vinced to drop those plans.

Ms. Hei­del­baugh, who spear­headed an un­suc­cess­ful law­suit last year to stop ACORN’s Penn­syl­va­nia voter-regis­tra­tion drive, tes­ti­fied in March that the non­profit group was 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.

ACORN also pro­vided lib­eral causes with protest-for-hire ser­vices and co­erced do­na­tions from tar­gets of demon­stra­tions through a shake­down it called the “mus­cle for the money” pro- gram, said Ms. Hei­del­baugh, a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive board of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion.

Mr. Cony­ers, a fierce par­ti­san known for his drive to con­tinue in­ves­ti­gat­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, had been an un­likely cham­pion for op­po­nents of ACORN.

Be­fore call­ing for the probe, he fre­quently de­fended ACORN. In Oc­to­ber, he con­demned an FBI voter-fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­get­ing the group, ques­tion­ing whether it was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated to ham­per a voter-regis­tra­tion likely to turn out sup­port­ers for Mr. Obama’s can­di­dacy.

But in March, Mr. Cony­ers dis­missed the ar­gu­ment made by fel­low Democrats that ac­cu­sa­tions of voter fraud and other crimes should be ex­plored by pros­e­cu­tors and de­cided in court, not by law­mak­ers in Congress.

“That’s our ju­ris­dic­tion, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice,” Mr. Cony­ers said in March. “That’s what we han­dle — voter fraud. Un­less that’s been taken out of my ju­ris­dic­tion and I didn’t know it.”


And there was noth­ing he could do about it: Rep. John Cony­ers Jr., chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciar y Com­mit­tee.

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