Yesterday, I reported that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a charity run by the Catholic Bishops, reported that they would not be giving any more funding to ACORN.

I attributed it to the possibility that the bishops had become aware of the links of ACORN to the Obama campaign, and worried about Conservative Catholic backlash against the CCHD.

But I may have been premature: the bishops might have been responding to a more serious legal problem in a June 2008 report by ACORN staff members.

The NYTimes reports:

The June 18 report, written by Elizabeth Kingsley, a Washington lawyer, spells out her concerns about potentially improper use of charitable dollars for political purposes; money transfers among the affiliates; and potential conflicts created by employees working for multiple affiliates, among other things.

Like all investigative articles, the Times is through even against those it backs when they finally get around to reporting it.

In summary: ACORN pays taxes, Project VOTE does not. So Acorn theoretically can be partisan, but Project vote can’t be, at least on paper.

But ACORN also has been given charitable money that was given for non partisan purposes by tax exempt charitable foundations.

The problem? It’s unclear if ACORN charity money went to promote partisan political activity. If so, it crosses a line.

According to NPR, ACORN not only does community organizing type things, but has connections with 537 groups that aim to promote the Democratic party

The 527 organization Fund for America .., gave $200,000 to ACORN.

ACORN has also had its own affiliated 527s. Communities Voting Together, for example, was founded to “educate and mobilize low income voters in key communities in key battleground states in the run-up to the 2004 presidential elections, focusing on Latino and African-American neighborhoods.

Most of the funds, according to NPR, come from individuals or groups that apparently knew it was being used in a partisan fashion.

But even NPR was stymied by the confusion of who got what and who gave what and if the money got mixed up:

ACORN’s network is complex, and money often transfers from one affiliate to another, making it hard for outsiders to keep track of it all.

The problem?

It matters to two people: Those giving money (who tend to be annoyed when they give money for one thing and find out it is being used for partisan purposes) and  the IRS, who is fairly strict about non profit type money being used for political purposes.

It turns out that the bishops aren’t the only ones who were warned about the problem and stopped giving money: the NYTimes mentions that “foundations that have backed ACORN are witholding support”.

So who are the foundations that fund various groups sponsored by ACORN? No names given.

NPR has a nice list here of those who give a lot of money to ACORN: it includes The People for the American Way, Working Assets, Service EmployeesInternational Union, HUD, the EPA, and a bunch of foundations set up by rich people who fund such things.

Many of the contributions were for specific reasons:

the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $1.4 million for an education reform campaign. The Ford Foundation has given $1.3 million, including $257,000 this year for "public education and technical assistance to grassroots groups working to expand access to the Earned Income Tax Credit, living wage ordinances and paid sick days."

None of these donations should have been used for partisan purposes, or transferred to affiliate groups that sign up voters.

For some reason, the 1.1 million dollars given last year by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is not listed. Keeping quiet, eh, bishop?

Did NPR overlook the Catholic money? Or was the money doled out in a way to local groups that made it difficult to track?

As NPR noted, their books are hard to figure out..

The question of who is planning to help the family pay back the stolen money wasn’t covered by the Times article.

However, they did mention how the acute loss of money to the budget was covered up: Almost a quarter million that was charged on a pension fund credit card. That money was written off by the pension fund as a gift to ACORN, without those in the fund knowing that their money was being given away.

The Times also reports funds from an ACORN Health Care fund was transferred to cover the financial shortfall to cover up the budget shortfall caused by the theft.

So while partisan pundits are arguing about ACORN’s vote getting schemes. they are missing the real story: Embezzlement, coverup of a crime, and mixing up charity money with money for partisan political purposes.

Not a big scandal, compared to FannieMae/FreddieMac or even the old Saving and Loan Crisis (with it’s Keating five links). But ultimately it will be a “heads-up” for other charitable organizations that meddle in partisan politics.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her  blog is Makaipablog.

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