WASHINGTON — The community activist group ACORN said Tuesday it has selected a former Massachusetts attorney general to investigate its housing program and other public service projects after employees were caught on video giving advice to a couple posing as a prostitute and pimp and Congress moved to cut off its federal funding.
Democrat Scott Harshbarger, a lawyer whose specialties include corporate governance, will conduct the internal investigation. ACORN said the review would be "aggressive, thorough and far-reaching."
"I took over this organization in the summer of 2008 with a mandate to modernize and reform the nation's largest community organizing network," ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis said in a written statement. "We have strengthened our systems on a number of fronts. But that process is ongoing."
ACORN said last week that it was suspending the admission of new clients into its service programs pending the outcome of its investigation and had fired several employees.
Video shot by the couple in Brooklyn appears to show ACORN employees advising the pair to lie about the source of their income or to launder the money to get housing assistance. The Brooklyn video and footage shot by the couple in other cities has been running on the Internet and television news programs for days.
The embarrassing video is the latest of ACORN's problems. Its board forced its founder out last year after his brother embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization. The money was later repaid by an anonymous donor.
Republicans, who previously accused ACORN of voter registration fraud, are calling for federal and state investigations into the group. The inspectors general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department have confirmed they are investigating their agencies' involvement with ACORN.
President Barack Obama, who was endorsed as a 2008 presidential candidate by ACORN's political action committee, is among Democrats who have criticized the actions of the employees in the videos. The Democratic-controlled Congress last week began taking steps to cut off federal funding for the group.
ACORN has condemned the actions of the two employees who appeared in the Brooklyn footage, but also contends parts of the video shot there and elsewhere by the hidden-camera couple were manipulated.
Harshbarger's inquiry will include ACORN's housing program, tax preparation program and other public service work such as screening for benefits like food stamps.
Harshbarger was Massachusetts attorney general in the 1990s. He later ran unsuccessfully for governor before becoming head of the government watchdog group Common Cause, where he pushed for tougher campaign finance laws.
Harshbarger currently is an attorney in Boston with the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP, where his specialties include corporate governance and corporate defense and investigations. He was a fundraiser for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign, and donated $2,800 to Obama's campaign after Edwards left the race.
ACORN is short for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
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