Court, Congress deal blows to Bachmann's ACORN agenda

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District 6 congresswoman Michele Bachman has made a lot of headlines, and enjoyed a lot of publicity on cable talk shows, in her never-ending battle to demonize the community organizing group ACORN.

On Friday, a vote in the House of Representatives and a decision by a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., suggest she's lost a couple of rounds in the battle.

First, the House bill: H.R. 4173 was born out of the banking and financial crisis that rocked the final year of the Bush administration. In the broadest strokes, the bill seeks to create a new federal agency and regulations for the financial industry so that banks and lenders "too big to fail" are prevented from doing just that -- and dragging the rest of the country into the ditch with them when they do. It also is aimed at putting an end to the kinds of predatory lending practices that brought about the home foreclosure crisis.

Bachmann sits on the House Financial Services Committee, giving her some leverage into how the bill could be shaped. Of late, Bachmann's chief beef with H.R. 4173 was its call for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and especially an oversight board made up of consumer protectionists, civil rights and fair lending advocates, and organizations that cater to the poor and undeserved. It would be charged with advising CFPA on matters involving predatory banking practices and other matters; it would not create any regulatory rules or policies.

Bachmann latched onto the oversight board as another way of taking a swipe at ACORN. Because the bill's language did not specifically exclude ACORN from participating in the board, Bachmann insisted that ACORN would soon be providing oversight of the nation's financial sector. And she wrote an amendment proposing to stop that. But her amendment went nowhere, as did lock-step Repubican opposition to the entire bill, and it passed 223-202. All of Minnesota's DFLers voted in favor: Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Colin Peterson and Tim Walz.

On Friday, Bachmann issued this statement:

"An organization that has repeatedly shown an inability to adhere to even the most basic standards of ethics should not have a role in overseeing our nation's financial system. By rejecting consideration of my amendment, the Democrat Majority protected ACORN instead of American taxpayers and investors."

Founded in 1970, ACORN says it has more than 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in about 75 cities across the country, generally aimed at providing legal and financial assistance to the poor and underserved. Two conservative activists made headlines last year when they posed as a hooker and a john with a concealed video camera, and recorded an ACORN member happily giving them legal advice -- ACORN fired its staffers when it learned of the matter. The group, which has helped with voter registration drives and the Census in the past, has also been accused of corrupting both; ACORN calls the charges false, and an effort to deter its members and communities from playing a role in the political process. Bachmann, along with a raft of conservative activists, has waged a non-stop effort to cut ACORN off from any and all federal funding. One part of that effort was declared unconstitutional on Friday.

The 2010 Continuing Appropriations Resolution -- the legislation that keeps the federal government running, and signed into law by President Barack Obama -- requires that no federal funds can be awarded to ACORN, that existing contracts or grant agreements with ACORN or its affiliates are suspended, and that federal contractors are required to ensure that none of their federal funds find a way into ACORN's hands. In September, ACORN filed suit, arguing that its Constitutional rights to free speech and due process were violated.

Bachmann called it "laughable" that Congress can't defund ACORN. Here' that video:

In a ruling on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon found nothing laughable about the government's actions.

"The question here is only whether the Constitution allows [Congress] to declare that a single, named organization is barred from all federal funding in the absence of a trial," Gershon wrote in her opinion issued Friday. "It does not."

She acknowledged the controversy over ACORN, but pointed out that she was not ruling on the validity or falsehoods of the claims against the group. Rather, she was ruling on the constitutionality of arbitrarily singling out a group for defunding based only on accusations, and without giving the group its day in court. ACORN, she wrote, "established the likelihood of irreparable harm absent an injunction and that issuance of a preliminary injunction is in the pubic interest."


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