Corporations vs. ACORN


As the furor over the grass-roots organization ACORN continues, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment that “would require the Pentagon to tally how much money goes to defense contractors that repeatedly defrauded the government and suggest ways to punish them.”  Sanders was on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show Monday night (October 5) where he stated: "You're looking at the big three, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman. Since 1995 these three companies have been cited 109 times for ripping off the American people. They have been fined or reached settlements for $2.9 billion."  

According to Senator Sanders’ web site, this is an amendment (H. R. 3326) to the defense appropriations bill. His bill “would require the Department of Defense to calculate how much the Pentagon pays companies that committed fraud.”  In contrast to what ACORN has been accused of doing (and these “crimes” were isolated events by few “rogue” employees, Sanders noted that: “Virtually every major defense contractor in this country has been engaged in systemic, illegal, and fraudulent behavior, while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.  We’re not talking here about the $53 million that ACORN received over 15 years.  We’re in fact talking about defense contractors who have received many, many billions in defense contracts and year after year, time after time, violated the law, ripping off the taxpayers of this country big time.”  

The source of the information about frauds committed by these three companies is the Project on Government Oversight (a nonpartisan project), these three defense contractors “have a history riddled with fraud and other illegal behavior.”  Despite the fines/settlements, these companies continue to receive federal dollars - $77 billion in government contracts in 2007 alone. Contrast this to the measly $53 million ACORN has received during the past 15 years.

Writing in The Nation, John Nichols comments that:

Now that the U.S. House and Senate have established an "ACORN Standard" for policing federal expenditures -- if even a few employees of an organization that feeds at the public trough stand accused of engaging in activities that appear to be inappropriate, then federal funding must be yanked – it would be nice to think that Congress has given itself permission to go after the seriously sleazy players who make it their business to rob American taxpayers. But what should by now be clear to anyone who is interested in dealing with government waste is that cracking down on community organizers who try to help poor people find housing and register voters in historically-disenfranchised communities was a cheap distraction. No one with wealth or power was confronted. No policies were changed. No societal challenges were addressed.

The amendment passed in the Senate and now goes to the House. Meanwhile, Betty McCollum (D-MN) offered her own amendment called the "Against Corporations Organizing to Rip-off the Nation Act of 2009.  This amendment seeks to "prohibit the Federal Government from awarding contracts, grants, or other agreements to, providing any other Federal funds to, or engaging in activities that promote certain corporations or companies guilty of certain felony convictions." (More details can be found in an article by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation.)

          The furor on the right over ACORN on the part of Republicans (and many Democrats as well) is typical of the double standard toward the poor and the rich. ACORN was founded in 1970 and currently has more than 400,000 members in more than 100 communities.  The group focuses on such issues as facing the poor as voting, housing and a living wage.  A few isolated incidents has brought them to the forefront of the right-wing media frenzy, led by FOX News and such conservative publications as the Washington Times and New York Post.  All of this eventually led to the House voting to cut off federal funds.

          To illustrate the double standard take a cursory look at the extent and nature of corporate and white collar crime.  While typical street crimes cost about $28 billion per year, health care fraud alone costs Americans about $100 billion to $400 billion a year, occupational fraud costs about $652 billion a year, employee theft another $15 billion, the Enron fraud costs investors and employees an estimated $25-50 billion, the Savings and Loan fraud of the 1980s cost taxpayers about $500 billion and securities fraud another $15 billion. These figures according to criminologist David Kauzlarich.  I once came up with an estimate of $1.5 trillion per year in costs for both white collar and corporate crime. (More details on this in one of my textbooks.)

It should not surprise anyone that members of Congress would go hard after a group like ACORN and virtually ignore the minor crimes of corporations.  After all, who are they beholden to for their being elected and remaining in office, given the amount of corporate lobbying that goes on?  Indeed, one report noted that “lobbying expenditures at the Federal level grew from $1.44 billion in 1998 to $2.41 billion in 2005, a 67 percent increase in seven years.”

It’s too bad ACORN and similar groups don’t have the money to lobby Congress.  But this is America, a country “of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.”

© 2009 by Randall G. Shelden.