Former MA Atty. General Harshbarger to Head ACORN Review
ACORN Board Chair Maude Hurd announced Tuesday morning that former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger would lead an independent inquiry into the organizational systems and processes surrounding the social services of the organization. Mr. Harshbarger, now Senior Counsel to the Firm of Proskauer Rose LLP, is also the former President and CEO of Common Cause, the good government organization.
Mr. Harshbarger said of the process: “I have been asked by the leadership of ACORN to conduct an independent and comprehensive inquiry and review of the management of its service delivery to communities. The CEO and Board have also asked me to make a full report, including recommendations for restoring ACORN's full capacities to carry out its mission on behalf of low- and moderate-income families."
ACORN Board Chair Hurd added: “We are pleased that a man of Mr. Harshbarger’s standing is going to be conducting this review. The Board is very concerned to see that ACORN is able to carry out its mission of bettering low- and moderate-income communities.”
ACORN, a community organization with hundreds of thousands of members has pursued anti-poverty campaigns since 1970 and has chapters in about 75 cities. The group has come under fire since Fox News released videos secretly taken by undercover operatives posing as a prostitute and her companion seeking tax and housing advice at five ACORN offices.
Mr. Harshbarger will begin the review process immediately, and there is no pre-determined timeframe for completion. The review will be aggressive, thorough, and far-reaching. Mr. Harshbarger, at the end of his review, will make his final report to ACORN’s Board and CEO. Mr. Harshbarger and Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s CEO, will make themselves available to the media on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the review.
ACORN has suspended accepting new clients into its service programs for working-poor families including tax preparation, housing assistance programs, and benefits screening until the independent review is completed. (The organization has not suspended its community organizing and advocacy work.)
Bertha Lewis, the CEO of ACORN said the organization would welcome the outside review. “I took over this organization in the summer of 2008 with a mandate to modernize and reform the nation’s largest community organizing network. We have strengthened our systems on a number of fronts. But that process is ongoing. We look forward to an objective examination of our service programs, and some of the dynamics at play in recent news broadcasts.”
Lewis announced the decision to pursue an independent inquiry on Wednesday, September 16th shortly after seeing videos of the undercover videographers purporting to be a prostitute and her accomplice seeking tax and housing assistance, ACORN’s outside Advisory Council assisted in the identification and vetting of candidates for the role of reviewer. The following individuals comprise the ACORN Advisory Council:
· John Banks, Vice President of Government Relations Con Ed
· Dave Beckwith, Executive Director, Needmor Fund
· Henry Cisneros, Executive Chairman, Cityview
· Eric Eve, Senior VP of Global Consumer Group, Community Relations, Citigroup
· Harvey Hirschfeld, President, Lawcash
· Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Board Member, RFK Foundation, former MD Lt. Governor
· John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress
· Andrew Stern, International President, Service Employees International Union
About Scott Harshbarger:
Scott Harshbarger served two terms as Massachusetts Attorney General (and President of the National Association of Attorneys General) and as the Democratic candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1998. Thereafter, until November 2002, Mr. Harshbarger was a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and President and CEO of Common Cause in Washington DC. He returned to private law practice in Boston in 2003 and is Senior Counsel to the Firm of Proskauer Rose LLP where he focuses his practice on strategic advice and litigation, corporate investigations and defense, corporate and nonprofit governance/ethics and government regulation. He also chairs the Firm's National Pro Bono Initiative. In addition to his many professional honors, Mr. Harshbarger has published extensively on the subjects of corporate and nonprofit governance and regulatory strategies. He regularly appears as a commentator in the national and local media.
ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots organization of low- and moderate-income families has organized chapters in dozens of cities nationwide working on neighborhood improvement campaigns. ACORN’s 500,000 member families are vocal advocates for health care reform and have worked for decades to promote homeownership for working families. The organization raised early alarms about predatory lending practices by financial institutions and has helped thousands of families avoid foreclosure across the country. ACORN successfully sued FEMA to extend housing benefits for hurricane Katrina survivors and recruited volunteers to gut and preserve thousands of homes in New Orleans. ACORN’s large-scale voter registration drives in African-American and Latino communities drew the attention of Karl Rove, who dismissed at least one U.S. Attorney for failing to prosecute the group, and rhetorical attack from Sen. McCain and Governor Palin in 2008. ACORN has helped families prepare 150,000 free tax returns and obtain $190 million in tax refunds in the last five years.