CHICAGO (AP) _ Affiliates of the once-mighty liberal activist group ACORN are remaking themselves in a desperate bid to ditch the tarnished name of their parent organization and restore federal grants and other revenue streams that ran dry in the wake of a video scandal.
The letters A, C, O, R and N are coming off office doors from New York to California. Business cards are being reprinted. New signs with new names are popping up in front of offices.
The breakaways are trying to shed the scandal that emerged six months ago when videos showed some ACORN workers giving tax tips to conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute. But while their names are different, most groups have kept the same offices and staff.
That, critics say, means the groups really haven't started anew and severed all ties to ACORN, which faced accusations of mismanagement and rampant voter registration fraud well before the video brouhaha sent even longtime Democratic backers scattering.
Even the national office of ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, doesn't blame affiliates for bolting from under its umbrella _ conceding its entire 40-state network has been devastated by what backers characterize as right-wing attacks.
“It is true that these range of attacks do damage to your brand and your good name,'' said Kevin Whelan, ACORN's communication's director. “The other reality is that we are starting to win some vindication on the facts. But vindication doesn't necessarily pay the rent.''
ACORN's financial situation and reputation went into free fall within days of the videos' release in September. Congress reacted by yanking ACORN's federal funding, private donors held back cash, and scores of ACORN offices closed.
On Wednesday, a U.S. judge reiterated an earlier ruling that the federal law blacklisting ACORN and groups allied with it was unconstitutional because it singled them out. That doesn't mean any money will automatically be restored, however.
For years, ACORN could draw on 400,000 members to lobby for liberal causes, such as raising the minimum wage or adopting universal health care. Locally, its activists pushed city officials to fix broken street lights, and it pressured banks to offer more favorable loans to low-income Americans. ACORN was arguably most successful at registering hundreds of thousands of low-income voters, though that mission was dogged by fraud allegations, including that some workers submitted forms signed by “Mickey Mouse” or other cartoon characters.
There's a chance the national group could disband, and it, too, may consider changing its name.
“The sorts of attacks ACORN has faced as an organization are unprecedented since the McCarthyism in the '50s, and it remains an open question whether an organization can survive that,'' Whelan said. “Time will tell.''
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