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ACORN Employees Broke No Laws, Study Finds

An independent review of ACORN’s governance and management practices finds fault with their lax oversight of satellite facilities after a rapid growth spurt that made such oversight difficult. However, the review, carried out by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, does not fault individuals at ACORN facilities for breaking the law in any of the hidden camera investigations funded and implemented by the far right.

The report, which can be found here, says that management issues are to blame for the hidden camera controversy, not the standards or practices of organization personnel:

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.

The report also notes that half of the videos – from Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. – featured employees from ACORN Housing, a separate organization from ACORN. It also concludes that “out of the three videos involving ACORN
employees, at least two involve extenuating circumstances,” and that at least for of the tapings were illegal under state law because O’Keefe and Giles didn’t seek the other participants’ consent to be filmed.

Harshbarger calls the recommendations for ACORN in the report a “roadmap to reform,” which can provide a more stable management structure and better oversight of its offices. The nine recommendations can be viewed here.

James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, the conservatives who conducted the hidden camera investigation and posted the heavily edited ACORN videos, refused to be interviewed by the Harshbarger investigation.

UPDATE: Progressive leaders have responded to the Harshbarger report. Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, for example, released this statement:

“Harshbarger also confirms what those who looked beyond the frenzy realized. ACORN’s staffers committed no acts in response to the infamous secret video hit team – no acts legal or illegal. Instead, an organization that has done remarkable work organizing and empowering the poorest Americans was targeted and slurred by a right-wing hit team, then persecuted by legislators who should have known better. They should be ashamed to rush to judgment on the basis of videotapes that were clearly doctored and edited, even as the video team refuses to make the full tapes available.

“ACORN has a proud record of service empowering the most vulnerable. It has begun to reform its management and tighten its procedures. Now it is time to stop hunting ACORN – and time to shine light on the not-so-hidden agenda and disreputable tactics of those who have targeted ACORN for assault.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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