Editor’s Note: ACORN, the grassroots community organization now under fire after staffers at four sites were caught on video offering potentially fraudulent mortgage advice to conservative activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute, is a favorite target of the right wing. During the 2008 presidential campaign, ACORN was subject to broad-based attacks for isolated incidents of voter registration fraud. While the accusations against ACORN differ, the animus remains the same. In a piece from October 2008, Peter Dreier and John Atlas demolish conservative claims that ACORN was to blame for the subprime mortgage collapse.
An increasingly desperate Republican attack machine has recently identified the community organizing group ACORN as Public Enemy Number One. Among ACORN’s alleged crimes, perhaps the most serious is that it caused, nearly single-handedly, the world’s financial crisis. That’s the fantasy. In the reality-based world, it was ACORN that sounded the alarm about the exploitative lending practices that led to the current mortgage meltdown and financial crisis.
Since the 1970s ACORN, which has 400,000 low- and moderate-income “member families” in more than 100 cities in forty states, has been warning Congress to protect borrowers from the banking industry’s irresponsible, risky and predatory practices–subprime loans, racial discrimination (called “redlining”) and rip-off fees. ACORN has persistently called for stronger regulations on banks, private mortgage companies, mortgage brokers and rating agencies. For years, ACORN has alerted public officials that the industry was hoodwinking many families into taking out risky loans they couldn’t afford and whose fine print they couldn’t understand.
Now John McCain and his fellow conservatives are accusing ACORN of strong-arming Congress and big Wall Street banks into making subprime loans to poor families who couldn’t afford them, thus causing the economic disaster. McCain’s campaign is running a one-and-a-half-minute video that claims Barack Obama once worked for ACORN, repeats the accusation that ACORN is responsible for widespread voter registration fraud and accuses ACORN of “bullying banks, intimidation tactics, and disruption of business.” The ad claims that ACORN “forced banks to issue risky home loans–the same types of loans that caused the financial crisis we’re in today.”
For months, the right-wing echo chamber–bloggers, columnists, editorial writers and TV and radio talk-show hosts–has pitched in with a well-orchestrated campaign to blame the mortgage crisis on ACORN and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the 1977 anti-redlining law. In a September 27 editorial, the Wall Street Journal wrote that “ACORN has promoted laws like the Community Reinvestment Act, which laid the foundation for the house of cards built out of subprime loans” and then falsely claimed the bailout bill would create a trust fund “pipeline” to fill ACORN’s coffers. On October 14 the Journal‘s lead editorial, Obama and ACORN, described ACORN as a “shady outfit” and accused the group of being “a major contributor to the subprime meltdown by pushing lenders to make home loans on easy terms, conducting ‘strikes’ against banks so they’d lower credit standards.”