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Smears Contradicted: Obama Organizing Work Was Not With ACORN

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On Friday, the Huffington Post debunked a series of charges made by conservative activists linking Sen. Barack Obama to the community organizing group ACORN. Since then, two additional charges have been flatly contradicted.

Appearing on Fox News last week, conservative media watcher Seton Motley described the ties between Obama and ACORN as follows:

"[Obama] was a lawyer for the organization. He then served his years as a trainer of activists for the organization. And when he was named chairman of the board by terrorist William Ayers to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, they funneled money to, amongst many other places, ACORN. So there is three stages of relationship with them."

As the Huffington Post noted on Friday, the first accusation -- that Obama was a lawyer for ACORN -- is deceptively vague. In fact, Obama at one time represented a large coalition of groups that happened to include ACORN, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice and a host of other entities. The legal work was in support of an uncontroversial "Motor Voter" law.

The second charge -- that Obama "served his years as a trainer of activists" for ACORN -- has now also been contradicted. According to writer Matthew Vadum, whom Motley has cited, "in 1992, Obama took time off from his new job at Davis Miner to direct ACORN's voter mobilization arm, Project Vote, a hugely successful voter registration campaign... Time magazine described Project Vote in 2004 as 'a nonpartisan arm of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).'

In fact, an Obama campaign spokesman told the Huffington Post that Project Vote was not directly associated with ACORN until 1994, two years after Obama organized for the group. The campaign provided a statement from the Project Vote's executive director during the period of Obama's involvement. "[I]t wasn't until after Mr. Obama's tenure had ended that it began to conduct projects more frequently with ACORN than with other community-based organizations," Sanford A Newman wrote to a letter to the Wall Street Journal.

Bertha Lewis, a senior organizer for ACORN, confirmed on Monday: "Project Vote started registering voters in 1992. ACORN and Project Vote really began to work more closely together in 1994."

The Obama campaign notes that the only on-record connection between Project Vote and ACORN dating from 1992 is the fact that ACORN's Executive Director, Steve Kest, was part of a forty-member national Project Vote advisory board. Other members of that panel Included Rep. John Lewis, Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, Former Rep. William H. Gray (D-PA), and the national presidents of the NEA, NOW, AFSCME, SEIU, UAW, IAFF, and the United Steelworkers.

A third claim made by Motley on Fox -- that Obama was appointed to the Annenberg Challenge "by terrorist William Ayers" -- appears to have been exposed as a smear by a Saturday report on Obama and Ayers published by the New York Times:

In March 1995, Mr. Obama became chairman of the six-member board that oversaw the distribution of grants in Chicago. Some bloggers have recently speculated that Mr. Ayers had engineered that post for him.

In fact, according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama's appointment. Instead, it was suggested by Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based group whose board Mr. Obama, a young lawyer, had joined the previous year. At a lunch with two other foundation heads, Patricia A. Graham of the Spencer Foundation and Adele Simmons of the MacArthur Foundation, Ms. Leff suggested that Mr. Obama would make a good board chairman, she said in an interview. Mr. Ayers was not present and had not suggested Mr. Obama, she said.

Over the weekend, Motley responded to the Huffington Post's original reporting, explaining that his decision not to respond to the Obama campaign's rebuttals stemmed from a concern over protecting his group's 501(c)3 non-profit status.

As ConWebWatch has noted, this excuse does not hold water. Non-profit groups like Motley's are forbidden from conducting specific electioneering activities; Motley is free to respond to inquiries from reporters about the factual accuracy of his statements.

In the meantime, several questions still remain about the broad, sweeping claims made by Motley on his Friday Fox News appearance. While it is easy to get lost in the weeds of what projects ACORN was involved with at which time -- even Vadum says "part of the confusion about ACORN stems from the fact that ACORN has grown into a multi-headed hydra over the years" -- it's far from clear that Motley was correct to say: "He [Obama] then served his years as a trainer of activists for the organization." No one has yet to claim that Obama spent any other time outside of 1992 on Project Vote. And of course, there is the question over when Project Vote became "part and parcel" of ACORN as Vadum asserts. If he cannot provide evidence that the two organizations' collaboration was cemented in 1992, then another leg of Motley's claim will have been disproved.

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