It would have been hard Monday for Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) not to understand how Bill Ayers felt the day the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked. Unforgiving history records that on Sept. 11, 2001, the retired domestic terrorist's "I don't regret setting bombs" comment ran in a New York Times profile.
While obviously of a much lesser magnitude, the House Judiciary Committee chairman's May 4 statement exonerating ACORN couldn't have come out at a worse time. "Based on my review of the information regarding the complaints against ACORN, I have concluded that a hearing on this matter appears unwarranted at this time," Conyers said in a statement aired that night on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight."
Just hours earlier his fellow Democrats in Nevada, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto dropped a bombshell. ACORN and two former senior ACORN employees in the state, they announced, had been charged with a total of 39 felony counts related to voter registrations.
"By structuring employment and compensation around a quota system, ACORN facilitated voter registration fraud in this state," said Masto. "Nevada will not tolerate violations of the law by individuals nor will it allow corporations to hide behind or place blame on their employees when its training manuals clearly detail, condone and, indeed, require, illegal acts in performing the job for the corporation."
Nevada alleges that last year ACORN paid canvassers between $8.00 and $9.00 per hour to register people to vote, but canvassers who fell short of the quota of 20 voter registration forms per shift were fired. This illegal policy was "clearly outlined in the training materials the organization used to train new employees," according (pdf) to the state.
Nevada claims ACORN also offered canvassers additional compensation in the form of a bonus program called "Blackjack" or "21+" that paid canvassers a $5.00 bonus. Each canvasser who brought in 21 or more completed voter registration forms per shift would receive the bonus. Such schemes are illegal in the state because they give canvassers an incentive to file fraudulent forms.
Nevada alleges the bonus program "was created by employee Christopher Edwards, the Field Director for the Las Vegas office," and that ACORN timesheets show the group's management knew about it and "failed to take immediate action to terminate it." The state claims that ACORN's Deputy Regional Director Amy Busefink knew about the bonus program and "aided and abetted the scheme by approving" it.
An initial hearing in the criminal case has been scheduled for June 3 in Las Vegas.
But no hearing has been scheduled by Conyers.
When on Wednesday this reporter asked Conyers spokesman Jonathan Godfrey to explain the decision not to move forward with a probe, he declined to do so and instead emailed the same statement that was aired on CNN earlier in the week.
It's unclear what exactly crystallized Conyers's thinking, but his reversal is all the more puzzling given the enthusiasm the 23-term congressman showed for holding an ACORN hearing mere weeks ago.
On March 19, after hearing the testimony of GOP lawyer Heather Heidelbaugh about ACORN's many misdeeds, Conyers said the allegations were "a pretty serious matter."
Heidelbaugh testified the nonprofit group violated a host of tax, campaign finance, and other laws. She said the presidential campaign of Barack Obama sent ACORN its "maxed out donor list" and asked two of the avowedly nonpartisan group's employees "to reach out to the maxed out donors and solicit donations from them for Get Out the Vote efforts to be run by ACORN."
Heidelbaugh said the New York Times had the donor list story but editors there spiked it the month before the election, a claim she repeated on "The O'Reilly Factor" two weeks later. The newspaper told the Philadelphia-based Bulletin that "political considerations played no role in our decisions about how to cover this story or any other story about President Obama."
Can you say "Bullshit'?