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New York Post

 

ACORN's Fruits

February 24, 2010

By Steven Malanga

PRINTER FRIENDLY

Billions to make pols, not the poor

ACORN may be fading away, thanks to government restrictions on its funding in the wake of the scandal in which its counselors advised undercover journalists on how to evade the law. But this does nothing to change the environment that propelled the radical activist group to national power.

ACORN is part of a huge network of nonprofits that continues to promote a big-government agenda in cities across America using taxpayer money. That network is alive and well today, even if ACORN itself dies.

This movement’s roots go back to the godfather of community organizing, Chicago’s Saul Alinsky, who in the 1930s envisioned local grassroots groups in poor areas that would mobilize residents into politically powerful coalitions.

In the 1960s, the architects of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty decided to federalize the Alinksy model by sending billions of taxpayer dollars to community groups, with a vague notion that these would somehow “empower” residents in their neighborhoods and thus improve their lives.

Instead, over time these nonprofits became the new political clubhouses in many areas -- and the activists who ran them became our next generation of politicians.

In New York, by the 1970s and ’80s, the road to political office increasingly ran through taxpayer-funded nonprofits -- as politicians like Pedro Espada and Ramon Velez in The Bronx and Vito Lopez in Brooklyn used community groups as launching pads for political careers.

New York’s City Council now has at least a dozen members who got their start in politics via nonprofit activism -- from Speaker Christine Quinn (who headed the Housing Justice Campaign of the Association of Neighborhood Housing Development) to Maria del Carmen Arroyo (who directed the South Bronx Community Corp.) to Margaret Chin (who helped found Asian Americans for Equality, which lists some $1.6 million in government funding for work that “empowers community residents, stakeholders and supporters”).

Many other council members have set up nonprofits run by family or staff that exist almost entirely on government money. Prosecutors recently indicted Councilman Larry Seabrook for allegedly funneling money to himself and family members through sham nonprofits. Last year, Councilman Miguel Martinez resigned over a misappropriation of funds he’d steered to a group where his sister served on the board.

New York isn’t unique. On Chicago’s South Side, a young community organizer named Barack Obama launched a political career after heading up the Developing Communities Project, a social-service group that lived almost entirely off government grants.

But, while the taxpayer money has been great for the political careers of community activists, it’s hard to see exactly what good these groups have done for the commu nities.

No one in the Johnson administration had any clear idea how taxpayer-funded “empowerment” would actually make communities better. So all the programs paying groups like ACORN to run counseling centers, housing programs, youth groups and so forth have wound up as notorious for having few performance standards.

The South Side of Chicago, for instance, has been home to probably the greatest concentration of taxpayer-financed community groups in the country -- yet decades of their work has produced no visible change in the neighborhood.

Nor is Chicago alone. Several years ago, the Buffalo News ran an investigative series in which it tried to determine what had happened to $550 million in federal anti-poverty funding in its city. The paper observed that “City Hall frittered away much of the money,” including on an “overblown network” of politically connected neighborhood groups. One city councilman later told me that local politicians had been “pigs feeding at the trough” of these antipoverty funds.

Back in 2005, the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush tried to write new rules that demanded rigorous performance standards for local groups, including the ability to demonstrate that their programs succeed in making communities better by reducing poverty and raising living standards. But Congress, filled with politicians who used this taxpayer money as political pork, blocked any effective reform.

And so even as ACORN fades away (or tries to rebrand itself under another name), the underlying problem remains. Billions of dollars of federal, state and local money still flow to nonprofits who use it to promote an often radical left-wing agenda that accomplishes little besides providing a living and a political career for community activists.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/acorn_fruits_n7hQfh2ljHxFe1ny0wvQjI

 

 
 
 

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