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Defending ACORN on Capitol Hill these days is a lonely, usually fruitless task, but Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) took on the director of the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday over his decision to cut the bureau's ties with the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) without a formal review or inquiry.
Dr. Robert Groves, the Census director, had ended the relationship after ACORN employees were secretly filmed giving advice to undercover filmmakers, disguised as a prostitute and a pimp, about how to fraudulently fill out tax forms.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised Groves at a Senate hearing on the 2010 census, saying, "I think you made a step in the right direction. . . . I can't tell you how many of my constituents contacted me about that issue."
Groves explained that ACORN was one of about 80,000 community groups that the bureau has partnered with to promote participation the 2010 census count. Although the partners are not paid and have no contract with the bureau, Groves said he ended the relationship because the controversy had become a distraction to the rest of his agency's work.
But Burris stepped in to defend the embattled group, asking Groves if he had given ACORN a formal review or hearing. Groves said he did not. "I made that decision because we are in constant contact with our regional offices, and we were learning that the recruitment of other partners was inhibited by our partnership with ACORN," he told the senator.
Burris asked if news reports of "the so-called Fox sting, which ACORN now is suing over," had contributed to Groves' decision to cut ties with the group. Groves said the scandal was part of it, but added the negative feedback from his regional offices was his primary concern. (To clarify-- The news channel did not have anything to do with the sting operation. The undercover video was actually produced and broadcast by BigGovernment.com,)
Burris argued that Groves' move stemmed from "unfair assessments based on agendas that have nothing to do with service to the community." The senator said he knows of ACORN's work in Chicago and said the organization could have been a valuable partner in getting a full census count in African American and poor communities.
Groves responded that the people in minority communities are important to the census and offered to sit down with Burris after the hearing to discuss the matter further.
"I think we should," Burris said. "I'm deeply concerned about this one-sided attack," adding that "any organization has lot of apples in the barrel." The Illinois senator said that compared to other government contractors, who are responsible for "military personnel being killed in a war zone because of shoddy contracts," ACORN is being disproportionately punished. "Because of one TV report, [ACORN] ends up being just ostracized and criticized and turned out by government agencies."
Burris voted against a Senate measure in September that cut off federal funds to ACORN, as did his Illinois colleague, Sen. Richard Durbin.
The 2010 Census will be used to determine everything from federal funding of programs to the number of representatives each state will have in Congress. With such a politically volatile process about to begin, it was clear from Groves' testimony at the hearing that the bureau is not willing to take on political baggage from ACORN or any other outside group.
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