The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has suspended taking any new clients in the wake of troubling videotapes that capture group representatives offering advice to people posing as a prostitute and a pimp.
“We took this very seriously,” said Bertha Lewis, CEO of the organization. “We said let’s suspend intake … We regret doing that, but we felt it was prudent and necessary while we are reviewing our intakes.”
It is unclear when the doors will open again to new clients, who may be seeking different services, including tax preparation or housing assistance. In the meantime, ACORN said it has fired employees involved in the matter and has appointed Scott Harshbarger, former Massachusetts attorney general, to lead an independent review of the organization.
Lewis denied reports that ACORN has shut down in some cities in the wake of the recent hidden camera videos, which shows ACORN representatives offering advice on operating a brothel and skirting federal laws.
However, she said the group has gone from roughly 100 sites two years ago to about 56 physical offices today. Lewis attributes this drop in numbers to the consolidation of many smaller offices that began last year, before the recent firestorm of criticism.
More troubles continue to mount for ACORN, with the House and Senate recently taking action to prevent the group from receiving federal funds, and in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for an investigation of the organization in his state. Other probes are also likely to take place.
In a telephone interview, Lewis apologized for the recent events while taking a stand that they were motivated by politics.
“I was embarrassed,” she said about the videos. “I was shocked. I was appalled. I could not believe my eyes. I was furious. Our members and the other staff really felt these few people, a handful of folks, out of hundreds of employees, had cast a bad light on the good work that we were doing. They may have been thinking they were being nonjudgmental or maybe they thought they were trying to be helpful, but they didn’t use common sense, and they didn’t live up to our professional practices.”
Lewis said the group has been under attack from the right for many years, with the video taping being the latest assault.
The next step for ACORN is to keep doing the work it has been for 40 years, according to Lewis.
The group is known for its fights. It may be facing its toughest one.