Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
JAFFA, Israel – Did Sen. Barack Obama's campaign attempt to hide a paid working relationship with a radical leftist organization that has admitted to major financial improprieties and has been convicted in numerous major voter fraud scandals?
That question is being openly asked by the Republican National Committee after it was disclosed Obama's campaign paid more than $800,000 in services to Citizen Services Inc. (CSI), a nonprofit organization that is an offshoot of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families. It has held violent, disruptive protests, seeks to regulate banks, supports left-leaning education policies, is accused of working on urging partisan voter turnout for elections, and seems to promote driving businesses from cities.
CSI is headquartered in New Orleans in the same building as ACORN. The three directors of CSI are also top leaders of ACORN. The two groups have close financial ties.
The Obama campaign's payments to CSI – first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – raise questions about the nature of Obama's current relationship with ACORN. Obama has been closely linked with the radical group and may have even helped drive large amount of money to the organization.
According to FEC records reviewed by the Tribune-Review, the Obama campaign paid CSI $832,598.29, from Feb. 25 to May 17, including $564,342.21 for "stage, lighting and sound."
That payment immediately stood out after a pro-Hillary Clinton blogger contacted CSI Director Sunday Alabi, who also serves as an ACORN leader. Alabi said CSI doesn't perform stage, lighting or sound services.
Also unusual was payment to CSI of $63,000 and $75,000 for advance work. Excluding the large payments to CSI, the average amount the Obama campaign spent on advance work paid to other organizations was $558.82.
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The Obama campaign on Friday announced it was amending its FEC filings to indicate it hired CSI for "get out the vote" projects instead of stage, lighting and sound.
FEC spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger told the Tribune-Review it is not unusual for campaigns to amend FEC reports, even in the case of large sums of money.
The RNC immediately pounced, accusing Obama of hiding a deeper relationship with ACORN:
"Barack Obama's failure to accurately report his campaign's financial records is an incredibly suspicious situation that appears to be an attempt to hide his campaign's interaction with a left-wing organization previously convicted of voter fraud. For a candidate who claims to be practicing 'new' politics, his FEC reports look an awful lot like the 'old-style' Chicago politics of yesterday," stated RNC Spokeswoman Blair Latoff.
Obama's camp fired back, accusing the RNC of "outlandish conspiracy theories" and pointing out Sen. John McCain was forced to return $50,000 "raised by a foreign national through a number of contributors who weren't even supporting McCain."
Group promoting Obama has history of major voter fraud
But the Obama campaign did not address the larger issues of the presidential candidate's ties to ACORN and why Obama would hire for a "get out the vote" drive a reported subsidiary of an organization whose leadership was convicted in multiple voter fraud cases.
WND calls to the Obama camp were not returned before press time.
Last July, ACORN settled what was described by the Washington Secretary of State as the "largest case of voter fraud in the state's history." Government prosecutors had filed felony charges against seven ACORN workers, who ended up receiving jail time.
Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Hobbs said in the case the workers had admitted filling out registration forms with names they found in phone books. The ACORN canvassers filled out the forms while sitting around a table at the downtown Seattle Public Library, Hobbs said.
ACORN was also investigated in 2006 for submitting false voter registrations in St. Louis. Nearly 1,500 fraudulent voter registrations were identified in the case, which was tied to at least one campaign, that of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Four ACORN workers were indicted in the case.
Also in 2006, four part-time ACORN employees were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., for voter-registration fraud after being caught, fired and turned in by ACORN.
In January 2005, two Colorado ACORN workers were sentenced to community service for submitting false voter registrations.
In Ohio in 2004, four ACORN employees were indicted by a federal grand jury for submitting false voter-registration forms.
ACORN has been accused in multiple other voter fraud cases in other states. Some investigations are still pending.
Although the connections between ACORN and CSI are well documented, ACORN says it is not doing work on behalf of the Obama campaign, which may be accurate on the technicality that CSI, hired by Obama, is legally a different organization.
Asked about his group's relationship with CSI, ACORN spokesman Charles Jackson told WND, "We're an ally organization of CSI. We work with them on various projects. CSI is a different company altogether. Acorn is a community organization."
Jackson said ACORN "doesn't do work on behalf of Obama."
CSI executive vice president Jeff Robinson, an ACORN activist listed as a director for ACORN election campaigns, did not reply to a WND e-mail asking whether CSI is a nonprofit front for ACORN.
He told the Tribune-Review, "ACORN is a client of ours. ACORN has a lot of different partner organizations. We are a partner, but we are separate."
In a 2006 ACORN publication, Citizen Services Inc. is described as "ACORN's campaign services entity."
ACORN has been accused of financial improprieties.
The New York Times last month quoted ACORN officials admitting Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, embezzled nearly $1 million from ACORN and affiliated charitable organizations in 1999 and 2000. A small group of executives decided to keep the information from almost all of the group's board members and not to alert law enforcement, the Times reported.
ACORN is organized into more than 850 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the United States, as well as in Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Peru. The organization was born out of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
ACORN strongly lobbies for gun control, leftist education policies, and the regulation of banks, targeting the lending practices of major financial institutions it sees as "predatory." It has a strong anti-capitalism agenda.
National Review Online writer Stanley Kurtz, who conducted a thorough review of ACORN, wrote the organization's primary goals are "municipal 'living wage' laws targeting 'big-box' stores like Wal-Mart, rolling back welfare reform, and regulating banks – efforts styled as combating 'predatory lending.'"
Sol Stern of the City Journal, who also wrote an extensive piece on ACORN, stated the group's "radical agenda" occasionally broke through to "undisguised authoritarian socialism."
He wrote ACORN works to drive big businesses out of cities and force companies that want to move to obtain "exit visas."
Intrusive, radical protest tactics
ACORN protests have turned violent, at times as soon as the rallies began. Some protests disrupted Federal Reserve hearings and busted into closed city council meetings.
Stern noted that in 2003 that in Baltimore ACORN underlings piled garbage in front of City Hall to protest lack of services in poor neighborhoods, wielded huge inflated rubber sharks to disrupt a bankers' dinner, and even staged a profanity-laced protest in front of the home of the city's mayor, Martin O'Malley.
"They unloaded a busload of people shouting pretty ugly things and scared the daylights out of my wife and kids," O'Malley told the Baltimore Sun. "I thought it was a pretty cruddy thing to do."
Obama has deep ties to ACORN, including with Ayers
ACORN is very active in Obama's native Chicago, where in 1997, some 200 members attempted to storm a City Hall meeting, resulting in six members being arrested, including Madeleine Talbot, ACORN's Chicago director.
In the early 1990's during Obama's community organizing days, Kurtz notes Talbot invited Obama to help train ACORN activists, beginning what seems to be a long-term relationship between the presidential candidate and the radical group.
Obama and other Chicago attorneys won a 1995 suit on behalf of ACORN, forcing the state of Illinois to implement the federal "motor-voter" bill.
While Obama served on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, it channeled millions of dollars to ACORN and affiliated groups.
Obama was a director of the Woods Fund board from 1999 to Dec. 11, 2002, according to the Fund's website. According to tax filings, Obama received compensation of $6,000 per year for his service in 1999 and 2000.
He served on the Fund alongside William C. Ayers, an unrepentant member of the Weathermen terrorist group which sought to overthrow of the U.S. government and took responsibility for bombing the U.S. Capitol in 1971.
Obama actively sought and received the endorsement by ACORN for his local campaigns.
In the Social Policy Journal, Toni Foulkes, a Chicago ACORN leader, documents what he terms Obama's "long service" with ACORN, which he said led many of the organization's members to help in voter campaigns for Obama's early Chicago campaigns.
Foulkes said Obama and ACORN were "old friends."
As a state senator, Obama touted many of ACORN's lines.
Writes Kurtz: "Sure enough, a bit of digging into Obama's years in the Illinois State Senate indicates strong concern with Acorn's signature issues, as well as meetings with Acorn and the introduction by Obama of Acorn-friendly legislation on the living wage and banking practices."
ACORN endorsed Obama's presidential campaign, an endorsement touted on Obama's official website.
"What it came down to was that Senator Obama is the candidate who best understands and can affect change on the issues ACORN cares about like stopping foreclosures, enacting fair and comprehensive immigration reform, and building stronger and safer communities across America," said ACORN's Maude Hurd of the group's Obama endorsement.
Obama met numerous times in recent months with ACORN leaders.
Sam Graham-Felson, Obama's official website blogger, noted when Obama met with ACORN leaders in November, he reminded them of his history with ACORN and his beginnings in Illinois as a Project Vote organizer, a nonprofit focused on voter rights and education. Project Vote was connected to ACORN.
"I've been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career. Even before I was an elected official, when I ran Project Vote voter registration drive in Illinois, ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work," Obama told ACORN members in November.
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