Barbara Lee defends her ACORN vote

If you’ve read our papers or Web sites this week – or read or watched any other news source, for that matter – you’ve heard about the blows dealt to the reputation of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, commonly known as ACORN. A pair of conservative activists impersonating a prostitute and her pimp visited ACORN offices in several U.S. cities, making secret video recordings of some ACORN employees and volunteers who seemed all too willing to coach them not only on housing and tax fraud but perhaps also on human trafficking.

Although California and Maryland laws forbid recording someone without their consent, and although the tapes were made by someone with a self-admitted bone to pick against ACORN’s social-justice and political activities, none of that seems to mitigate the ACORN workers’ behavior. The Baltimore, Washington, Brooklyn and San Diego videos seem to depict egregious conduct (though perhaps the San Bernardino incident wasn’t what it seemed).

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday wrote a letter to state Attorney General Jerry Brown asking that he “launch a full investigation into ACORN’s activities in California.” And the California Republican Party on Thursday wrote a letter to Secretary of State Debra Bowen asking that she “promptly conduct a thorough investigation of apparent ongoing and serious violations of state law and regulations” by ACORN, specifically “the validity of voter registration activities by this group” (though the malfeasance captured on the videotapes seemingly had nothing to do with accusations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN by Republicans since last year).

I left a voice mail message earlier today for Carlos Uribe, the head ACORN organizer in Oakland, asking to discuss how the national organization’s problems do or don’t reflect on its activities here, which have included helping poor people find housing, avoid foreclosure and register to vote, among other things. I’ve not yet heard back from him.

The House yesterday voted 345-75 to amend the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 to deny all federal funds to ACORN. Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, were among 75 Democrats who voted against the amendment. Lee is the only one who responded to my request today for an explanation.

“I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of ACORN employees work very hard on behalf of the low- and moderate- income people in this country. That has certainly been our experience with ACORN here at home,” Lee told me via e-mail this afternoon. “They do good work – and important work – on issues ranging from foreclosure prevention to predatory lending to efforts to increase minimum wage. ACORN was out front of the foreclosure crisis and helped educate the community on ways to retain their homes.”

And as for those workers and volunteers depicted in the damning videos, she said, “like any other employees who don’t conduct themselves properly, they should have been fired and they were fired.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.


  1. Once again, if you are undecided about an issue, check how Reps. Lee, Stark and Woolsey vote and then take the opposite stand. ACORN is a product of the poverty industry. Like its counterpart, the racism industry (patron: Jesse Jackson, Sr.), the poverty industry belches cash, some of which eventually falls down on the streets of poor areas while the rest is spent on useless projects aimed at assuring the survival of ACORN and its minions. ACORN has an interesting criminal record, too.

  2. Concerned :
    I argued this issue with Barbara Lee 12 years ago when she was on the Oakland City Council. She and others were just looking for a cash cow.
    Thanks to all those who were not interested at the time, such as Jerry Brown, Scott Haggerty, Ignacio De La Fuente and a few others. They now have one, the cow is out of the barn.

  3. Um, Tom, Barbara Lee never served on Oakland City Council. She served in the Assembly from 1990-1996, in the state Senate from 1996-1998, and in the House since then.

  4. Concerned :
    What ever, I know we had words at some location down the road. Maybe it was committee hearing in the State assembly, something to do with Farmers Markets legislation. I never had the chance to debate her while she has been in congress, maybe some day. Maybe it was about the ACORN project. Thanks for the correction are you her campaign manager?

  5. Concerned about the concerned:
    How can you have “had” a conversation “down the road”, as in- yet to come, the future?

  6. Concerned:BJD:
    Just in case you don’t know what down the road means, it means at one time. That’s farmer talk, like I will see you down the road. For you intelligent folks it means we have met before. Anyway why you put it the tail is still wagging the dog. Sorry.

  7. BJD:

    You must be a young person, perhaps you received a Pell grant with Barbara Lee’s help, Or some free housing. In about 6 months I will be calling her to help me get some low affordable housing. I wonder If I can buy our old property back in Oakland, or the old ranch’s in Stockton, Escalon, Tracy and Wesley? That’s down the road.

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