An internal investigation of the community-organizing group ACORN says there was no criminal conduct by employees caught on videos offering advice on how to hide assets and falsify lending documents.
In a 47-page assessment commissioned by the organization, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger said ACORN leaders "appear committed to effect reform and are on their way to preserving ACORN and its mission in a reduced size and scope."
The report, which ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis described as "part vindication, part constructive criticism and complete roadmap for the future," was unlikely to stem continuing political criticisms of the group and its efforts.
Harshbarger said ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, should return to its roots, focusing on community organizing and should hire an independent ethics officer to oversee an internal governance program that is already under way.
Asked how much ACORN paid Harshbarger's law firm to conduct the examination, Lewis said ACORN's board would have to decide on whether to release the figure.
The report, the product of a two-month investigation, said that ACORN's management had not moved fast enough to institute reforms after an alleged eight-year coverup by ACORN founder Wade Rathke of embezzlement by his brother.
ACORN's leaders are "now reaping what Rathke sowed," Harshbarger wrote.
The organization's leadership has made reforms in finances and governance a priority, the report stated. However, it added, this focus has not yet been matched by similar attention to delivering services to ACORN's clients.
The videos of ACORN staffers offering advice to a woman and a man posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend triggered a firestorm of criticism this fall, with some ACORN employees appearing willing to support illegal schemes involving tax advice, misuse of public funds and illegal trafficking in children.
The videos "feed the impression that ACORN believes it is above the law," the report found. "We did not find a pattern of intentional, illegal conduct by ACORN staff involved; in fact, no action, illegal or otherwise, was ever taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers," Harshbarger said in a statement. "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 onsite supervision."
In an interview with reporters, Harshbarger said some of the behavior was inappropriate, but said there is a difference between behaving unprofessionally and behaving illegally. The examination "did not find any illegal conduct by ACORN staff," he said.
Lewis said Harshbarger "was tough but fair in examining where ACORN has been and what we still need to accomplish in having the most effective possible organization to represent the interests of the communities we represent — low- and moderate-income, African-American and Latino families."
"How surprising is it that a report paid for by ACORN exonerates them?" Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said.
The report is "a whitewashed 'internal investigation' by a Democrat Party hack from Massachusetts," said conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart. ACORN is suing Breitbart, who posted the videos on his Web site, along with James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who played the prostitute and her boyfriend in the videos.
Until the controversy this fall over the videos, 10 percent of ACORN's funds came from federal government grants. In September, Congress blocked previously approved funds from going to ACORN.
"In barring ACORN from competing for federal contracts when no lawbreaking had occurred, Congress rushed to judgment and violated fundamental constitutional rights," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice.
How soon until Fox News uses this internal review as proof ACORN is corrupt because they did a review which said they are not corrupt?