Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Throwing some sunlight on ACORN

Stanley Kurtz, who has done more to explore some of the ties that Obama has had in his past to various people and groups that are much more radical than any other presidential candidate in our history, explains the connection between ACORN and the mortgage crisis we've been facing. ACORN has been at the forefront of pushing legislators to ease up controls on banks and then pressuring those banks through the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and other interpretations of the law to lend money to people who really shouldn't have ever qualified for a mortgage. This is an important history to understanding how we got to where we are today. And ACORN and the Democrats in Congress plus the Clinton administration worked hand in hand to set us on that path.
The CRA's ostensible purpose is to prevent banks from discriminating against minorities. But Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ), who chaired the subcommittee, was worried that charges of discrimination had become an excuse for lowering credit standards. She warned that new, Democrat-proposed CRA regulations could amount to an illegal quota system.

FOR years, ACORN had combined manipulation of the CRA with intimidation-protest tactics to force banks to lower credit standards. Its crusade, with help from Democrats in Congress, to push these high-risk "subprime" loans on banks is at the root of today's economic meltdown.

When the role of ACORN and congressional Democrats in the mortgage crisis is pointed out, Democrats reply that banks subject to the CRA represent only about a quarter of the loans that led to our current troubles. In fact, the problem goes way beyond the CRA.

As ACORN ran its campaigns against local banks, it quickly hit a roadblock. Banks would tell ACORN they could afford to reduce their credit standards by only a little - since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage giants, refused to buy up those risky loans for sale on the "secondary market."

That is, the CRA wasn't enough. Unless Fannie and Freddie were willing to relax their credit standards as well, local banks would never make home loans to customers with bad credit histories or with too little money for a downpayment.

So ACORN's Democratic friends in Congress moved to force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to dispense with normal credit standards. Throughout the early '90s, they imposed ever-increasing subprime-lending quotas on Fannie and Freddie.

But then the Republicans won control of Congress - and Rep. Roukema scheduled her hearing. ACORN went into action to protect its golden goose.

IT struck as Roukema aired her concerns at that hearing. Pro testers, led by ACORN President Maud Hurd, stood up and began chanting, "CRA has got to stay!" and "Banks for greed, not for need!" The protesters then demanded the microphone.

With the hearing interrupted and the demonstrators refusing to leave, Roukema called the Capital Police, who arrested Hurd and four others for "disorderly conduct in a Capital building" - a charge carrying a penalty of a $500 fine, six months in prison or both. As the police arrived, two of the protesters menacingly approached Roukema's desk, still demanding the hearing microphone.

Requests to the Capital Police to release the activists from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass,) failed. Then Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) showed up at the jail and refused to leave until the protesters were released; the Capital Police relented.

Meanwhile, instead of repudiating ACORN's intimidation tactics, Rep. Kennedy berated Roukema for arresting one of his constituents and accused the Republicans of preparing for "an all-out attack on CRA." He also promised to introduce legislation to expand the CRA's coverage to mortgage bankers and large credit unions.

THIS little slice of political life from 1995 had a variety of ripple effects. Above all, ACORN's intimidation tactics, and its alliance with Democrats in Congress, triumphed. Despite their 1994 takeover of Congress, Republicans' attempts to pare back the CRA were stymied.

Instead, Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Reps. Kennedy and Waters allied with the Clinton administration to broaden the acceptability of risky subprime loans throughout the financial system, thus precipitating our current crisis.

ACORN had come to Congress not only to protect the CRA from GOP reforms but also to expand the reach of quota-based lending to Fannie, Freddie and beyond. By steamrolling the GOP that March, it had crushed the last potential barrier to "change."

Three months later, the Clinton administration announced a comprehensive strategy to push homeownership in America to new heights - regardless of the compromise in credit standards that the task would require. Fannie and Freddie were assigned massive subprime lending quotas, which would rise to about half of their total business by the end of the decade.
And Barack Obama has been working with ACORN since his earliest days as a community organizer. ACORN is one of the biggest community organizing networks out there.
Obama has been a key ally of Chicago ACORN going back to his days as a community organizer.

Later, as a young lawyer, he offered leadership training to the activists who were forcing Chicago banks into high-risk subprime loans. And when he made it on to the boards of Chicago's Woods Fund and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, he channeled money ACORN's way.

Obama was perfectly aware of ACORN's intimidation tactics - indeed, he oversaw a Woods Fund report that boasted of managing to fund the radical group despite its shocking behavior.

And as a lawmaker, in Illinois and in Washington, he has continued to back ACORN's leglislative agenda.

ACORN's high-pressure tactics live on. And congressional Democrats are still covering for ACORN, funneling it money and doing its legislative bidding. ACORN also continues its shady ways, using a vast network of technically separate but in fact quite interconnected organizations to evade federal laws on the politicized use of government money.
Now Obama is trying to hide that connection, especially as ACORN has been more and more in the news tied to fraudulent voter registrations across the country.
Which brings us to Mr. Obama, who got his start as a Chicago "community organizer" at Acorn's side. In 1992 he led voter registration efforts as the director of Project Vote, which included Acorn. This past November, he lauded Acorn's leaders for being "smack dab in the middle" of that effort. Mr. Obama also served as a lawyer for Acorn in 1995, in a case against Illinois to increase access to the polls.

During his tenure on the board of Chicago's Woods Fund, that body funneled more than $200,000 to Acorn. More recently, the Obama campaign paid $832,000 to an Acorn affiliate. The campaign initially told the Federal Election Commission this money was for "staging, sound, lighting." It later admitted the cash was to get out the vote.

The Obama campaign is now distancing itself from Acorn, claiming Mr. Obama never organized with it and has nothing to do with illegal voter registration. Yet it's disingenuous to channel cash into an operation with a history of fraud and then claim you're shocked to discover reports of fraud. As with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, Mr. Obama was happy to associate with Acorn when it suited his purposes. But now that he's on the brink of the Presidency, he wants to disavow his ties.
When he was in charge of foundations or in the state legislature, he cheerfully funneled money to ACORN; imagine what he could do as the head of the Executive Branch.