It’s Alive!

Report: 170 ACORN-affiliated groups still active

August 28, 2012

Many of ACORN’s affiliates, allies, and old chapters remain active under different names—and at least two have received federal dollars—despite the left-wing community-organizing group’s official dissolution and ban on receiving federal funds, according to a new report.

Cause of Action, a nonprofit government watchdog group, recently identified 174 active or rebranded ACORN affiliates, as well as organizations that share former ACORN staff.

The groups shared the same physical location, leadership or staff, or tax ID number as old ACORN chapters, Cause of Action said.

At least two of the groups, Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) and Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), have received federal dollars. According to MHANY, it receives funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Fannie Mae.

"It’s a serious concern because, as we stated in our letter to the IRS, it has been engaging in political activity," Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein told the Free Beacon. "We have concerns that these rebranded groups are using the same model that ACORN essentially trademarked: getting tax-exempt funds and using them for political purposes."

Matthew Vadum, an investigator for the Capital Research Center who has tracked ACORN, called the revolving door of staff among old ACORN affiliates and their political activities "quite incestuous and corrupt."

"They’re really straddling the line with what nonprofits are allowed to do," Vadum said.

In some ways, Vadum said, the official collapse of ACORN was the best thing that could have happened to the organization. The former shell has now split into dozens of groups, making it much harder to track.

"For some of these groups, all they did was legally change their name. Nothing else changed. The corporate structure, leadership and staff are the same," Karen Groen Olea, Cause of Action’s chief counsel, told the Washington Examiner.

Cause of Action has sent several letters to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation into the groups’ activities to determine if they have violated guidelines for tax-exempt organizations.

MHANY Management, Inc. shares the same IRS identification number as the erstwhile New York ACORN Housing Company, Inc. The name changed between the group’s 2007 and 2008 tax filings.

MHANY partners with New York Communities for Change (NYCC), another renamed ACORN affiliate. HUD has approved it as a housing counselor.

The executive director of New York Communities for Change is former New York ACORN official Jon Kest, brother of former ACORN national director Steve Kest. A 2011 Fox News report described NYCC employees shredding documents and removing any items related to ACORN after a previous report exposed the group’s ties to both ACORN and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

New York Communities for Change received funds from the New York Foundation, Mertz Gilmore Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Long Island Community Foundation, and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation.

The group has also received considerable funding from unions, including $500,000 from the United Federation of Teachers to campaign against charter schools.

According to its website, MHANY’s mission is "promoting, developing and managing affordable housing in New York." However, the group has partnered with certain large developers for projects that would seem at odds with its mission statement.

MHANY supported, and stood to profit, from the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which will replace a neighborhood of low-income brownstones with a $4.9 billion basketball stadium and residential complex.

Bruce Ratner, the former majority owner of the New Jersey Nets and one of the principal stakeholders in the project, provided $1.5 million in loans and grants to ACORN in 2008. The organization also positioned itself to make millions off of the new housing development.

Ismene Speliotis, then-executive director of ACORN’s New York chapter, and now executive director of MHANY, told the New York Post that her organization "expects to play a role in the marketing and lease-up."

"This raises questions of cronyism," Cause of Action’s Epstein said. "You’ve got a developing project launched through eminent domain and supported by groups that receive taxpayer funds. The taxpayers are suffering on multiple accounts here."

As previously reported, the ban on federal funding for ACORN has not stopped the flow of taxpayer dollars to many of the same organizers who previously led the scandal-ridden group’s various chapters.

The Daily Caller reported in 2011 that AHCOA received more than $300,000 in federal funds. Shortly after, the Housing and Urban Development Department released a memo declaring AHCOA was not an ACORN affiliate, despite sharing the same Chicago address, phone number, and tax ID as a former ACORN entity, and was therefore eligible for federal funds.

Judicial Watch, another conservative government watchdog group, reported that an Illinois housing agency led by a former ACORN executive received almost $500 million in taxpayer funds.

Former ACORN president Bertha Lewis hinted ACORN was regrouping under different names in a 2011 interview.

"We learned great lessons from our tribulations, and we decided that organizing by any other name is still organizing," Lewis said. "The former chapters and their boards incorporated themselves, renamed themselves, and made sure that the reforms I had been putting in place around structure, financial management, and operations were carried on. I'm happy to say that they're very strong, and we're in about 25 states. Glenn Beck and the conservative right actually helped us create 18 bulletproof community-organizing Frankensteins that they're going to have a very hard time attacking."

ACORN spectacularly collapsed several years ago after its members engaged in electioneering, lobbying, and embezzlement, as well as allegations of voter fraud after a video sting by conservative agent provocateur James O’Keefe. The group officially closed its doors in 2010 after Congress banned further federal funding in 2009.

MHANY did not return requests for comment.

New York Communities for Change did not return requests for comment.