The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has begun investigating the more than $1 million in church grants given to the voter registration group ACORN. Fearing the grants may have been used in partisan or fraudulent ways which could threaten the Church’s tax-exempt status, they have hired forensic accounting experts.
Workers with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) are being questioned by state officials and the FBI about voter registration forms they submitted with signatures from Mickey Mouse and members of the Dallas Cowboys football team, the Washington Times reports.
ACORN’s registration efforts target low-income neighborhoods believed to favor the Democrats. Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama himself once worked with ACORN as a community organizer and lawyer in Chicago.
According to the Washington Times, the Catholic Campaign on Human Development (CCHD) granted $1,037,000 to ACORN in 2007, including a $40,000 grant to an ACORN affiliate in Las Vegas that the Nevada attorney general’s office raided last month as part of a voter fraud investigation.
The CCHD has reportedly given more than $7.3 million to ACORN over the past decade for about 320 projects.
A $1.2 million grant to ACORN was frozen by the Church in June after the group was accused of voter fraud in 15 states.
Also in June, ACORN disclosed that Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $950,000 from the organization in 1999 and 2000. His actions were reportedly kept secret from most of ACORN’s board members until a whistleblower publicized the matter.
Bishop of New Orleans Robert Morin, who chairs a committee overseeing the CCHD, sent a July 11 letter to more than 200 bishops saying the investigation is “thorough, serious and ongoing,” adding that USCCB money was not knowingly misused.
Charles Jackson, communications director for ACORN, told the Washington Times that no investigators for the Catholic Church had contacted his group, adding that the group’s board has started its own forensic audit.
The CCHD receives about $9.4 million each year in second collections from Catholic churches. This year’s collection for CCHD will take place on November 23. According to the Washington Times, such donations go to anti-poverty groups, interfaith associations, peace and justice groups, immigrant aid groups, environmental coalitions, labor rights groups and housing coalitions.
Ralph McCloud, the new executive director for the CCHD, commented on the matter on Monday.
"While there is value in registering low-income voters, I am concerned that the whole ban on partisanship has been violated," McCloud commented, adding that he could not reassure voters that the funds donated before 2008 were not used in voter fraud.
"There is no way we can tell," he said, according to the Washington Times. "All our applications go through a rigorous screening, and we ask each organization to commit to being nonpartisan. The overwhelming reality is most of the groups we fund do tremendous work."
CNA called CCHD twice for further comment, but received no reply by publication time.