In the aftermath of many (some overblown, some not) public struggles, ACORN enlisted former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger to conduct an internal review in order to "to evaluate the management and governance challenges facing ACORN." Following the Andrew Breitbart-funded "pimp" videos, ACORN was denied public funding from Congress. So the stakes for ACORN being able to show that it is on the path to reforming itself are pretty high.
The review is a rather predictable public ritual of accountability. It mostly tells us what most people who have ever set foot in an ACORN office already know: that it is a well-meaning and often effective organization focused on low-income Americans, which has serious issues with governance and professionalism.
Here are the key takeaways from the report:
The serious management challenges detailed in our report are the fault of ACORN’s founder and a cadre of leaders who, in their drive for growth, failed to commit the organization to the basic, appropriate standards of governance and accountability. As a result, ACORN not only fell short of living its principles but also left itself vulnerable to public embarrassment.
This hidden camera controversy is an apt example. While some of the advice and counsel given by ACORN employees and volunteers was clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, we did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff; in fact, there is no evidence that action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers. Instead, the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN’s longstanding management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures, and a lack of on-site supervision.
This falls rather short of the Unified Conservative Theory of ACORN, in which the organization stole the 2008 election, trained Barack Obama to be a radical socialist, caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and is just generally the greatest threat to American democracy since the Communist Party. Therefore, Republicans will be unsatisfied with the report's conclusions, which make recommendations about good governance rather than confessing to some shadowy socialist conspiracy. As for the infamous videos, the report admits ACORN employees acted unprofessionally, but it also takes several shots at the makers of the videos for "distorting" or "manipulating" their content.
In the meantime, liberal organizations have circled the wagons around ACORN. The NAACP, The Alliance For Justice, The Campaign For America's Future, The Center for Constitutional Rights, Media Matters, USAction, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the SEIU have all released statements supporting ACORN and the conclusions in the review.
-- A. Serwer