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John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee have launched efforts to connect Barack Obama and the community organizing group ACORN.
ACORN was founded in 1970; its acronym stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN's agenda includes left-leaning causes such as voter registration drives for low-income groups, initiatives to increase the minimum wage and programs offering help to victims of predatory lending.
By all indications, ACORN operates within the American political mainstream, though clearly it favors the left side of the ideological spectrum. Its voter registration efforts tend to focus on the low-income, minorities and youth, all traditional Democratic constituencies. Obama received an endorsement from the group's political action committee in February 2008 when the Democratic primaries were in full swing. But that's not to say Republicans never support ACORN's efforts: McCain himself appeared at a 2006 rally in favor of immigration reform, sponsored in part by ACORN.
The primary allegation against ACORN is that its voter registration drives result in many phony registrations. ACORN itself admits that some of its workers, in their attempts to meet registration goals, have turned in registration forms for people who do not exist or don't live in the geographic area. (Notorious examples include Mickey Mouse and the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys.) ACORN says the problems are isolated, and that it works with officials to correct them. They claim to have registered 1.3-million people to vote, so a small number of irregularities are to be expected. (For more on ACORN and the controversy surrounding its voter registration drives, read the St. Petersburg Times story here .) Several states are investigating the group's voter registration efforts.
The McCain campaign issued numerous charges about Obama's connection to ACORN in an Oct. 10, 2008, memo. For other charges, read our full story. Here, we'll look at the allegation that Obama was "a trial attorney for ACORN."
Obama graduated from law school in 1991, worked on the book that would become his memoir Dreams from my Father , and directed a voter registration drive in 1992. After that, Obama went to work for a civil rights law firm then named Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland. (It is now known only as Miner, Barnhill and Galland.) The firm's specialty is civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development work.
Obama and two other attorneys represented ACORN along with other plaintiffs in a 1995 federal civil lawsuit against the state of Illinois — Gov. James Edgar and other state officials were the named plaintiffs — to demand that it enforce a new federal law known as "motor voter," which allowed people to register to vote when they got their driver's license. Among the groups who sided with ACORN in the matter: the U.S. Department of Justice and the League of Women Voters. The courts concluded that Illinois had to enforce the law, and the case generated several federal court orders through 1995 and 1996.
Obama was making his first successful run for the Illinois state Senate in 1996; he would hold that office until he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004. Obama remained affiliated with the law firm while he served in the state legislature, but news reports say his actual legal work for the firm declined significantly as he focused on his elected office.
So if McCain campaign's statement means that Obama represented ACORN, this is true. But the statement implies that Obama worked for ACORN as a staff attorney, or in a longer-term relationship. Yet he really only represented them once. So we find McCain's statement Half True.
ACORN v. Edgar, No. 95 C 174, No. 95 C 281, No. 95 C 433, No. 95 C 1387, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS, EASTERN DIVISION, 880 F. Supp. 1215; 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4007, March 28, 1995, Decided , March 31, 1995
Chicago Sun Times, Strong, silent type; Obama's legal career: He was 'smart, innovative, relentless,' and he mostly let other lawyers do the talking , Dec. 17, 2007
Los Angeles Times, Obama's law days effective but brief , April 6, 2008
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