Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael McCray: "No one knows how much ACORN is worth"

Late last week, I conducted an interview with Michael McCray, the spokesperson of the group known as "ACORN 8". The organization, consisting exclusively of former and current ACORN leaders, is battling for fundamental reforms.

Q: Michael, how did you first become involved with ACORN?

A: I have been actively involved with ACORN for over 10 years. I have been aware of ACORN nearly all of my life because I grew up in Arkansas (the birth place of ACORN) and was always active with community service organizations like ACORN. I became active nationally in an effort to fight predatory lending and mortgage fraud in Georgia from 1999 to2009 And I became a National Board Delegate for Georgia ACORN from 2006 – 2007. However, my chapter was dissolved when we started to ask questions about ACORN’s organizational structure and financial records. ACORN’s by-laws don’t allow them to remove board members but it does allow for an “administrative dissolution” of a chapter affiliate.

Q: Tell us a little about your background and what attracted you most to ACORN?

A: Community service is a family value. My family has always been active in education and community service organizations – including, community action groups like ACORN, NAACP, SCLC, Habitat for Humanities and Amnesty International. I continued my career in public service nationally, by working for the Federal Empowerment Zone Initiative with the Clinton Administration. Consequently, I have spent my entire professional career by working with faith-based and community organizations across the country.

ACORN is the most effective advocate for low and moderate income families in America. The appeal of ACORN is it is a “fearless” advocate and action oriented organization. What do I mean by fearless? There are many different types of neighborhood and community organizations; all of which exercise various levels of influence for their constituency. More importantly, these various organizations have inherently different tolerance levels for conflict. Some pray, some write letters, some make phone calls but ACORN goes to “war,” they will engage in immediate direct action for the benefit of low and moderate income families.

In a way ACORN is like the “Marines”. ACORN will go into areas where few (if any) traditional organizations will go and organize chapters. ACORN will protest, demonstrate and fight institutions which more traditional organizations shy away from – like banks, corporations and high ranking politicians. So if you are a poor or working class person and you have a serious grievance against the “establishment” but you can’t call Johnnie Cochran – you better call ACORN. They are the only chance you have.

Q: The promise of ACORN was compelling; how did you see it meet its goals?

A: ACORN is the most effective advocate for low and moderate income families in America. It has a long list of legislative victories, successful direct action campaigns, etc. Also the first pre-requisite for a local chapter to join ACORN is proof of a successful direct action campaign. I have personally participated in local, state and national direct action campaigns. ACORN is highly effective; my problem is that its leadership has become corrupt.

Q: Where did it fall short?

A: In my opinion, the biggest shortfall is that ACORN has become unaccountable to the needs and desires of its membership; while purporting to be (and claiming benefits from) being a membership organizations. I believe ACORN has been hijacked by a cabal of individuals who are acting in their own financial and political best interest.

Voter Fraud, Voter Registration Fraud, Census Contracts, etc are all red herrings. The real problem is lack of accountability and poor governance. If “Mickey Mouse” registered to vote – who supervised the canvasser who filed out that application. And what senior staff member supervised the team leaders? And how did the board of directors supervise the senior staffers? We believe that the majority of ACORN’s problems could be solved with –Truth, Transparency, Accountability and Governance. These are the real issues, the others are red herrings.

Q: At some point, you and others became disillusioned with top management. What was the ideological split between the two groups?

A: The ideological split is simply this – we believe that ACORN is / should be controlled by its membership and operated for the benefit of its membership; they believe that ACORN should be operated and controlled by staff with merely incidental benefits accruing to its membership.

Q: One of the complaints we've heard related to funding among all of the various ACORN-related entities. What were some of the more egregious activities you saw perpetrated by top management?

A: Well the multi-million embezzlement and 8 year cover up has to lead the list of egregious illegal conduct. The embezzlement was publicly reported to be $1 million, however the board was notified that the true number was at least $5 million.

Senior Staff and the Executive Committee knew about the embezzlement and covered it up for eight years.

We believe that any participated in, benefited from or knew about and withheld information about the embezzlement from the board should be terminated and/or removed from any association with ACORN. We demanded a forensic examination and independent financial audit of ACORN and all of its related entities to ferret out the wrongdoers.

Q: Mixing of non-profit funds with those of the for-profit entities has been mentioned repeatedly as an ACORN theme. How bad is or was this situation and where do you see it leading?

A: Our position is simply this – we do not believe that the national board of directors has ever been given access to ACORN’s corporate books and financial records. Thus, no one really knows how much ACORN is actually worth and how much non-profit –vs– for profit funding has flown through ACORN unless and until there is a forensic examination and independent audit. We know that all funding flowed through Citizen’s Consulting Inc. (CCI). But CCI claims to be a private company – but it is really the financial management division of ACORN.

Ultimately, their must be a forensic examination and audit of ACORN. Otherwise know one will ever know for sure how much went into ACORN, how much money was co-mingled at ACORN or how much money was embezzled from ACORN. It’s just that simple.

Q: Any closing thoughts about ACORN?

A: The ACORN 8 is an organization of ACORN leaders; current and former board members who are struggling to reform the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now following the discovery of a multi-million dollar embezzlement.

ACORN is not living up to its original mission; and that is to give meaningful voice and empower low and moderate income members of society. ACORN has been corrupted from its original purpose by senior management and an organizational structure that exploits the low and moderate income membership ACORN was founded to serve.

Voter fraud, voter registration fraud, unpaid taxes, unfair labor practices, etc, while tantalizing are not the problem, but merely symptoms of ACORN’s corrupt leadership. The real problem with ACORN is its governance – and the lack of transparency and accountability of that leadership.

We are NOT trying to Destroy ACORN. We are ACORN, we love ACORN and are only attempting to reform the association and return it to its original mission and purpose.

We are NOT disgruntled ACORN employees or GOP / Republican operatives. Thus, we do not have a partisan axe to grind or a political agenda to support.

We demand an immediate suspension of all federal, state and local funding of ACORN until after an independent audit and Congressional hearings on ACORN and its related entities. And all members should BOYCOTT ACORN until after a forensic examination of ACORN and its related entities.

Whe believe America must support the ACORN 8. The ACORN 8 is America’s last, best chance to empower low and moderate income members of society through Integrity in Community Organizing.

If you love ACORN and its original mission; you should support the ACORN 8. If you hate ACORN and its corrupt practices; you should support the ACORN 8. If you are an ACORN member and tired of being ignored; you should support the ACORN 8. If you are an ACORN employee and tired of being sacrificed for senior management; you should support the ACORN 8. If you are an ACORN donor and want to be sure you were not a victim of funder fraud and that your contributions are not being used for illegal political activities; you MUST support the ACORN 8. If you are a taxpayer and want to be sure your tax dollars are not funding a corrupt organization; you MUST support the ACORN 8.

o The Inside Story of ACORN 8: Provocateur

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