(Washington, D.C.) U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (MN-06), yesterday urged Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to appoint a special inspector general to investigate and fully audit ACORN’s Minnesota affiliates and the national organization’s operations within Minnesota.
“I appreciate you taking immediate action to protect Minnesota’s taxpayers by prohibiting ACORN from accessing any further state funding,” wrote Bachmann. “But, Minnesota must also take the next step to ensure Minnesotans that all state funds and federal funds used by ACORN affiliates in Minnesota have been used properly.
Drawing on testimony by ACORN whistleblowers and findings from an internal audit by attorney Elizabeth Kinglsey, presented to ACORN in June 2008, Bachmann noted the lack of firewalls between political and nonpolitical operations at ACORN. Given ACORN’s strong electioneering presence in Minnesota in 2007-08 and its acceptance of $109,000 in state funds through 2008, Bachmann notes that, “a proper accounting of these state funds is warranted.”
Bachmann urges the Governor to appoint a special inspector general to ensure that the appearance of impartiality and objectivity in this investigation be maintained. She details involvement by both Attorney General Lori Swanson and Secretary of State mark Richie with ACORN activities in her letter.
Full text of the letter provided below:
October 5, 2009
Governor Tim Pawlenty
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
Dear Governor Pawlenty,
As you know, ACORN has earned a reputation with the public for extremely poor systemic controls that have led to persistent unethical behavior and repeated disregard for voter registration and other federal and state laws. Recent videos showing ACORN employees giving advice on how to set up a prostitution ring as a legal enterprise by violating tax and immigration laws and abusing government housing grants have really only been the icing on the cake of years of flagrant abuse of the public trust.
I appreciate you taking immediate action to protect Minnesota’s taxpayers by prohibiting ACORN from accessing any further state funding, and I appreciate that you have requested the Minnesota Management and Budget Department to conduct “a thorough review of the state’s relationship with [ACORN],” but Minnesota must also take the next step to ensure Minnesotans that all state funds and federal funds used by ACORN affiliates in Minnesota have been used properly. To that end, I urge you to appoint a special inspector general to investigate and fully audit ACORN’s Minnesota affiliates and the national organization’s operations within Minnesota so that we may gain a true understanding of how the organization has used taxpayer funding in the past.
Amongst other serious breaches in organizational structure and legal compliance, an internal audit conducted by attorney Elizabeth Kingsley and reported to ACORN on June 19, 2008, found that internal controls at ACORN did not appropriately firewall the various affiliates and separate out its various non-profit and electioneering functions. ACORN whistleblowers, including Minnesota’s own Karen Inman, have made similar allegations about “the lack of any apparent firewall between ACORN’s political and nonpolitical operations,” and the fact that funds “were comingled between various nonprofit and taxable ACORN affiliates.” (At ACORN, a reflexive impulse to cover up instead of investigate, Karen Inman, MPR, 5 October 2009)
There is more than ample evidence in press reports from 2008 that ACORN’s affiliates played an active role in the 2008 election in Minnesota. In fact, Anita MonCrief, another ACORN whistleblower, wrote in 2008, “During 2007 ACORN’s sister organization Project Vote began operating what some would consider to be a national office out of Minnesota.” The Star-Tribune reported, “More than 43,000 Minnesotans have registered to vote this year through ACORN.” (The campaign trail: Voter sign-up sets off a furor, Kevin Diaz, 24 October 2008) That same article also quoted Kevin Whelan, ACORN’s deputy political director, as saying that in 2008, “the group has hired more than 300 voter registration canvassers in Minnesota as part of a $500,000 campaign conducted mostly in the Twin Cities.” It has been reported that from 1996 to 2008, ACORN and its affiliate, ACORN Housing, received $109,000 in state funds. Given what Ms. Kingsley found in her audit of ACORN’s practices and what Ms. Inman discovered as a member of ACORN’s national board, a proper accounting of these state funds seems more than warranted.
Furthermore, Minnesota’s own Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, and Minnesota Attorney General, Lori Swanson, have close ties to ACORN, which could contribute to an appearance of impropriety and taint any involvement that they might have in a full state audit of ACORN’s activities. For instance, during his 2006 campaign, Secretary Ritchie was endorsed by the Minnesota ACORN Political Action Committee, and he received political contributions from them. Attorney General Swanson has been questioned by a legislative auditor for her role in diverting funds from a settlement with Capitol One Bank to ACORN in 2006. According to an article in the Star Tribune, about two-thirds of the settlement for $749,999 – which clearly was intended to skirt the law that requires any settlement funds of $750,000 or more go back to the state – was distributed to non-profit organizations, including ACORN. (AG office queried about diverted funds, Pat Doyle, 30 June 2008) And, ACORN’s Financial Justice Center graded Lori Swanson as one of only a few “A+” attorneys general in the nation in 2008. (MarketWatch, 5 October 2009)
A special inspector general would allow the state to delve into all of the critical issues while also removing any appearance of impropriety or partisanship from this important inquiry. I know you agree that ACORN’s pattern of behavior is unacceptable and Minnesotans applaud you for immediately taking action to ban ACORN from receiving their state tax dollars. I urge you to ensure that a full inquiry is conducted
I appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to continuing to work together to protect taxpayers in the future. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Member of Congress
cc: Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State
Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General