California probe clears ACORN of criminal activity

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said in a report Thursday that the community organizing group ACORN engaged in “highly inappropriate behavior” in the state but violated no criminal law.

Brown’s office launched an investigation of ACORN’s California operations at the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September, after the release of videos that appeared to show ACORN employees advising people about how to engage in prostitution and other illegal activity.

ACORN, the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, disbanded Thursday after months of controversy over the videos and various government investigations.

Started in Arkansas in 1970, ACORN expanded across the nation with community offices working on such issues as affordable housing and voter registration. ACORN had 13 offices in California and 40,000 members.


“ACORN in California was disorganized and very poorly managed,” Brown’s report said. “It failed to recruit, train and monitor its employees to ensure compliance with California law.”

Brown said some ACORN employees made suggestions about how to avoid criminal activity when approached by James O’Keefe III, a political filmmaker, and Hannah Giles, a Florida college student, who posed as a pimp and prostitute in meetings with ACORN workers across the country from July 24 to Aug. 14, 2009. But the “most offensive” statements to the couple by ACORN workers occurred outside California, the report said. In fact, one ACORN worker in San Diego even called the police about the couple, and another worker in San Bernardino treated the encounter as a joke, the report said.

“The evidence illustrates that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality,” Brown said. “Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting-room floor.”

In exchange for a complete set of their videos, Brown’s office gave O’Keefe and Giles immunity from a state privacy law that prevents unauthorized taping, the report said. It noted that people who were taped without their knowledge could sue in civil court.

The report said ACORN probably violated state civil laws by disposing of thousands of pages containing confidential information about employees, members and other individuals in a trash bin, failing to file a 2007 state tax return and engaging in four instances of possible voter registration fraud in San Diego.

ACORN also was unable to document how it used charitable funds raised for the victims of Southern California wildfires, the report said. But the probe “determined that ACORN spent more than it likely raised for the fire victims, and therefore further action into this issue is not a wise use of the state’s resources,” the report said.