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ACORN’s Money Tree Has Many Branches

Posted on Oct 15, 2008

(The Secret Money blog is a joint project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and National Public Radio.)

Conservatives are on the march against the community organization ACORN, accusing its massive voter registration effort of fraud and faulting Obama for having any connections to the group. As we reported this morning, ACORN doesn’t necessarily mind the attention.

But what exactly is ACORN? Actually, it’s many, many things. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has dozens of affiliated entities, from a home-buying assistance corporation to community radio stations to liberal research and training institutes. The giant web of ACORN organizations, primarily based in Louisiana, has been funded by a mix of labor union money, government grants (which really drive conservatives crazy) and charitable contributions from large foundations. See below for a breakdown of funding sources.

Plus, Project Vote—the voter mobilization organization that works closely with and draws its leadership from ACORN—paid ACORN and an affiliate $5.4 million in 2006. But where does Project Vote get its money? Normally it’s hard to tell, but we obtained a 2006 tax return showing the nonprofit’s funders, including: $4.5 million from the charitable trust of the investment management firm Vanguard; $425,000 from the Bauman Family Foundation, which also gives to the League of Conservation Voters and People for the American Way; and $396,000 from the liberal phone company Working Assets. 

Union Money

ACORN’s biggest union backer, the Service Employees International Union, gave more than $4 million to the community organization and its affiliates from 2006-07, according to Dept. of Labor filings. One SEIU local union, the Illinois Homecare Workers and Home Childcare Providers, sprouted from ACORN’s organizing efforts and pays rent to ACORN.

ACORN’s affiliates also pick up money from the Change to Win labor federation, the Food and Commercial Workers Union and the United Federation of Teachers, among others.

Government Grants

Much to the dismay of conservatives, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gave ACORN Housing Corp. $8.2 million from 2003 to 2006, according to ACORN Housing provides counseling, classes, and access to special loans to low-income homebuyers. HUD has given another $1.6 million to other ACORN affiliates since 2003.

The Environmental Protection Agency also chipped in, with $100,000 for ACORN’s Louisiana Environmental Justice Project in 2004, for a program to rid homes of lead. The Republican National Committee wants a federal probe of ACORN. But the Justice Department has liked ACORN enough to give a New York ACORN affiliate $138,000 in 2005, for a juvenile delinquency prevention program.


The foundations that give to ACORN & Co. vary widely. There are some classically liberal ones: The Bauman Family Foundation gave $350,000 to ACORN’s American Institute for Social Justice. George Soros’ Open Society Institute gave $300,000 to that institute and $250,000 to ACORN proper. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gave the institute $1.8 million.

But some of the biggest donors are mainstream foundations of big corporations, according to data from the Foundation Center. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation gave $2.4 million to ACORN Housing and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation gave $1.4 million. Citigroup’s foundation gave $1.5 million to the social justice institute.

Other major donors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $1.4 million for an education reform campaign. The Ford Foundation has given $1.3 million, including $257,000 this year for “public education and technical assistance to grassroots groups working to expand access to the Earned Income Tax Credit, living wage ordinances and paid sick days.” Foundations affiliated with the late founder of the United Parcel Service gave a combined $6.4 million.


The 527 organization Fund for America was set up last year by top liberal donors and operatives to help fund pro-Democratic organizations this election season, but it ended up folding. The Fund, itself bankrolled by George Soros and others, gave $200,000 to ACORN.

ACORN has also had its own affiliated 527s. Communities Voting Together, for example, was founded to “educate and mobilize low income voters in key communities in key battleground states in the run-up to the 2004 presidential elections, focusing on Latino and African-American neighborhoods.” The group received $125,000 from film producer Jeanne Levy-Hinte; $100,000 from environmentalist donor John R. Hunting, whose wealth comes from the Steelcase office furniture company; $80,000 from the president of Working Assets, and $70,000 from Linda Pritzker of the Hyatt fortune.

There’s a lot more to ACORN’s financial picture that we can’t complete here. ACORN’s network is complex, and money often transfers from one affiliate to another, making it hard for outsiders to keep track of it all. But one thing is for sure: ACORN is busy.

—By Will Evans, Center for Investigative Reporting.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, October 16, 2008 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment

By the-real-truth, October 16 at 10:20 am #

I guess you’re one of the kooks who voted for “W”.

The few youths caught falsely registering voters doesn’t represent the thousands doing an honest job.

Maybe we should revisit Diebold and the inside Republicans running that “real” problem.

2 general elections later and we still don’t have verifiable paper trails for recounts.

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By mackTN, October 16, 2008 at 9:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

let’s hope money does not corrupt.  acorn employs a lot of acivists who set up offices in selected cities and build community organizations.  a few years ago, they were sued for not supplying health care to employees, most paid a pittance-$25000 year working everyday from 2 to 10 pm,  for the most part acorn is white, bertha lewis fronts the store, one of its few black administrators,  they aren’t very open about their money for a grassroors org.  they compete with local neighborhood and special interest groups for members and donors.

control over millions of poor and working class people means power, which the right now sees.  most poor people will vote democratic if they are organized and educaated about the process.  republicans fear these growing numbers which is why they bring up class warfare & spreading weath around to mislead voters into thinking that socialist obama wants to redistribute wealth, taking money from hardworking white joe plumber to give to shiftless lazy people. 

this is what lewis was talking about.  talking in codes to deliver the same racial messages of old.  mccain sounds so fake claiming to be offended and badly coached.  why debate with someone who won’t respond to your answers.  obama says you are wrong and here is the proof and mccain ignores it.

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By knute, October 16, 2008 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While the media continues to cooperate with the GOP in spewing out the allegations of wrong doing by ACORN they are playing a pure K. Rove tactic. Make an allegation over and over implying voter fraud while the republicans thruout the country commit election fraud ( a federal crime ). Thats what the attorney firings was all about, but that didn’t get much traction either in the major networks and remember it was only 8 who refused to cooperate with Rove in this distraction. Apparently there were many others who did choose to cooperate. We just don’t hear about that. So , in the end, Rove is successfull in orchestrating another election fraud. It is the only way, after these last 8 dismal years they can remain in power. And the reason they can is because our media is still the shill of the republican party.

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By Aegrus, October 16, 2008 at 6:06 am Link to this comment

You know what, for all the slander and hatred spewed against Obama and ACORN, I’m really glad the GOP decided to make this organization an issue. It’s put the spotlight on what seems to be a really good institution. I just wish the corporate media would shed this article’s insight to Americans.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, October 16, 2008 at 3:31 am Link to this comment

I’m glad the Democrats are finally giving Republicans a dose of their own medicine.

Getting out the vote is never a bad thing.

Remember the kooks who came out in droves to vote for Bush II.  The conservative christian crowd who were suckered in to vote for the devil himself.

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