Opinion: You won’t have ACORN to kick around anymore

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The Times will weigh in later Tuesday or Wednesday morning on the impending shutdown of ACORN, the national community organizing group accused by Republicans (and their presidential candidate) of threatening democracy with its error-prone voter registration drives and busted for advising incognito conservative activists on how to hide illegal activity from government scrutiny. The paper’s editorial record on ACORN is mixed. The editorial board accused the GOP of hubris when it started attacking the group for alleged widespread voter fraud in the 2008 campaign, but also said the group’s head organizer should have resigned after the hidden-camera sting. Read our editorials on the ACORN saga here, here and here.

As The Times pointed out in one of its editorials, the controversy over ACORN could tarnish the practice of community organizing itself. Barack Obama’s campaign, which emphasized the yet-to-be elected president’s years of nontraditional public service following his graduation from law school, brought increased attention to this sector of activism, which Sarah Palin mocked in her vice presidential acceptance speech at the GOP convention in 2008. Though groups like ACORN engage in patently political activism, their survival depends on government funding and other grants for the more pedestrian charitable work they do, such as free tax preparation and assisting would-be entrepreneurs. Ironically, had ACORN shunned such charitable work and stuck only to political activism, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles would have had nothing to bust.

Feel free to weigh in on the matter by taking our unscientific poll: Has ACORN discredited the idea of community organizing?

-- Paul Thornton