Michele Bachmann strikes again

The Minnesota congresswoman managed to get an anti-ACORN amendment past the committee chair, Rep. Barney Frank, and he's not happy about it.

Published April 30, 2009 8:35PM (EDT)

Most people -- especially members of Congress who serve on a committee he chairs -- have a tough time pulling one over on Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. And certainly, if they do succeed in doing so, they're sure to face his wrath. That's the position Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., finds herself in after she successfully offered an amendment that would restrict the flow of federal dollars to one of conservatives' favorite targets, ACORN.

The House Financial Services Committee, which Frank chairs, was marking up and voting on the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2009 on Wednesday when Bachmann managed to get her amendment passed by voice vote. it specifically prohibits funding provided for in the bill from going to "any organization which has been indicted for a violation under Federal law relating to an election for Federal office; or any organization which employs applicable individuals."

Frank only caught on after Bachmann issued a press release announcing her victory in which she said, "Before we commit anymore (sic) taxpayers’ dollars, I want to ensure that organizations, such as ACORN, are prohibited from receiving funds while simultaneously facing charges of voter fraud and tax violations."

In a statement of his own, Frank said:

I made a mistake yesterday in not objecting to the Bachmann amendment. I did not read it carefully, and it was in the last minute that the amendment was accepted. It is a deeply flawed amendment and I am opposed to it.

Banning people from possible participation in government programs based on an indictment is a violation of the basic principles of due process, and I intend to offer a corrected amendment when the bill comes to the floor of the House next week.

That's certainly one reason to oppose the language of the amendment, but this also goes to a continuing misunderstanding on the right regarding the dynamic involved in ACORN-related fraud cases.

Look, ACORN is hardly squeaky clean. The brother of its founder embezzled $1 million, and no one bothered to inform law enforcement, or the group's board. And clearly it knows it has a problem with workers turning in falsified voter registrations, but has consistently failed to prevent that from happening again and again.

But ACORN isn't trying to steal elections, and it's not actively engaged in voter fraud. In fact, the fraud that's going on is being perpetrated upon ACORN by workers looking to get money from the group for hours they didn't work and voters they didn't actually register. The group's detractors frequently cite some of the ludicrous registrations that it has turned in over the years -- for people like players for the Dallas Cowboys, or even cartoon characters -- as evidence of ACORN's malevolence, but the people who are named in those documents are clearly never showing up to vote. They're just names on a form, ways for the employees who are defrauding the organization to make a buck they hadn't earned.

Separate from that -- and this may just be my reading of it -- the language of Bachmann's amendment seems to be faulty: It's in the wrong tense. The amendment says funds can't go to any organization that "employs" people who've been indicted for election fraud, so from my reading of it, it seems like the amendment would actually only affect ACORN if it decided not to fire employees who'd been indicted, or hired people who had been indicted before.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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