Thursday, September 24, 2009
ACORN on Wednesday sued the duo who shot hidden-camera videos that are damaging the organization's reputation and the Web site that aired them, as the Internal Revenue Service broke off its partnership with the liberal community activist group.
The lawsuit accuses James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles of violating Maryland law that requires two-party consent for electronic surveillance. It also names as a defendant the news Web site Breitbart.com, which first posted the video. The pair posing as a pimp and underage prostitute videotaped ACORN workers in Baltimore advising them how to cheat on taxes and loan applications.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is seeking a court order to prohibit further distribution of the videos and payment for compensatory and punitive damages.
"Although we do not condone what our former employees did, no matter how entrapped they were, we are also committed to our 500,000 members that we will hold the defendants civilly and criminally responsible for their violations of Maryland laws and for the damages inflicted upon ACORN's reputation," ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis said.
Andrew Breitbart, who runs the "news portal" that aired the videos and is a columnist for The Washington Times, declined to comment. Mr. O'Keefe and Miss Giles could not be reached for comment. Mrs. Lewis had threatened to sue Fox News Channel, which first broadcast the sting videos, but the network is not named in the lawsuit.
The legal action puts ACORN back on an offensive footing after waging a largely unsuccessful public relations campaign to repair its image by firing employees caught in the sting, temporarily closing offices to retrain staff and enlisting independent investigators to review its operations. The moves did little to preserve support in Washington.
The group announced Tuesday that former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger would lead an independent inquiry into its social services programs to address problems revealed by the sting video.
The IRS was the latest agency to distance itself from ACORN. The IRS said it would eject ACORN from the agency's volunteer tax assistance program, which provides tax-preparation help to about 3 million low-income workers. The Obama administration also canceled plans for the group to help with the 2010 census two weeks ago when the videos surfaced.
ACORN has scrambled to regain Democratic support after the Senate and House last week voted overwhelmingly to block federal funding of the organization. In the past, Democrats steadfastly defended the group against conservative charges it skirts tax laws, violates election rules and commits other crimes while heavily supporting Democratic candidates and liberal causes.
The Justice Department's independent inspector general plans to review ACORN's grant funding from the department, and Republicans are pressing for similar probes in at least six other agencies and an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.
The videos that battered ACORN's fortunes were shot by Mr. O'Keefe, who appeared in the footage posing as a pimp and was accompanied by a female colleague, Miss Giles, posing as an underage prostitute. The pair received counseling at ACORN offices in Baltimore, Washington, New York and San Bernardino, Calif., to obtain a home loan for property where they could conduct a prostitution business, which they said also would employ girls from El Salvador.
At the Baltimore ACORN office, a female worker advised them to conceal their illegal activities when applying for a loan or filing taxes.
ACORN officials said Mr. O'Keefe attempted similar stings at ACORN offices in several other cities - including San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Philadelphia - where workers turned him away or called the police.