The radical activist group ACORN is the E. F. Hutton of prostitution. It stands ready to provide discreet advice on setting up a brothel and engaging in other, associated acts of criminality. When ACORN talks, pimps and hookers listen.
This has been established by an audacious video sting operation undertaken by guerrilla conservative documentarian James O'Keefe, 25, and his sidekick Hannah Giles, 20. O'Keefe posed as a pimp and Giles as a prostitute seeking help getting a mortgage for a brothel. In cities around the country, workers for ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - happily obliged.
The videos are 60 Minutes for the YouTube age. Posted at the new website BigGovernment.com and aired on Fox News, they are yet another indication of the loosening grip of the legacy media. A couple of 20-somethings crafted a devastating exposé with just a hidden camera and some gumption. The Census Bureau immediately severed its ties with ACORN.
In Baltimore, ACORN staff assured O'Keefe and Giles that the group doesn't "discriminate" - i.e., has no standards whatsoever. Giles is told if she makes $96,000 a year selling sex, she should tell the government she only makes $9,600. Her occupation, meanwhile, should be reported as "performing artist." If the conversation had gone longer, surely she would have been advised how to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts grant.
O'Keefe notes that they want a house for 13 underage girls who will be imported from El Salvador to work as prostitutes. Only three - not all 13 - of the girls can be listed as dependents, ACORN prudently advises. And so long as they are under 16, they will make O'Keefe and his partner eligible for the child tax credit.
So it went in other ACORN offices. In Washington, D.C., O'Keefe and Giles were told they could lie in their loan application for the house. "We are looking out for you," an ACORN staffer said, reassuringly. In Brooklyn, Giles was told to identify herself in loan documents as a "freelancer" and to bury cash proceeds of her work in the backyard. Imagine what tax advice John Dillinger might have gotten had he ever consulted ACORN.
The group has responded to the videos with a flurry of smears and excuses. The tapes are a distortion - even though ACORN fired the workers involved. Other ACORN offices didn't fall for O'Keefe's stunt - but is it a defense if only a few of your offices abet sex slavery? The video operation was imbued with racism - never mind that it was ACORN staff helping two white people exploit underage Latino girls. The ACORN workers involved were poorly trained - but how much training does it take to recoil at criminality?
The ACORN staff comported itself in keeping with ACORN founder Wade Rathke's philosophy of "maximum eligible participation." The idea is to sign up as many people as possible for government benefits. It has its roots, Matthew Vadum of the Washington-based Capital Research Center writes, in the 1960s New Left vision that "called upon activists to pack the welfare rolls to spread dependency, bankrupt the government, and cause uprisings against the capitalist system."
If the revolutionary fires don't burn as bright anymore, ACORN still has radical aspirations and a marginal commitment to the existing political and legal system. Unsurprisingly, its voter-registration efforts are synonymous with fraud. For all its disgust with capitalism, ACORN is well-heeled, between its membership fees (O'Keefe and Giles were repeatedly urged to sign up), foundation grants, corporate shakedowns, and government funding. By one estimate, it has garnered $53 million in federal funds since 1993.
This must stop. It's as if the government contracted with a right-wing militia to conduct gun-safety courses. After the voter-registration scandals of last year, Republicans agitated for a congressional investigation of the group. Democratic Rep. John Conyers initially agreed, then relented. "The powers that be" in the House wanted him to back off, he explained. Time for the powers that be to reconsider.