It seems difficult to imagine that the credentials of an attorney could allay skepticism about ethics in an era of scandals, many rocking lawyer dominated institutions. But the professional background of attorney Scott Harshbarger should do just that for the embattled Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, commonly known as ACORN.
Of course it is not because ACORN reportedly retained Harshbarger "to oversee the internal review of its practices" that we should take comfort. In fact that reality is cause for measured alarm.
In the wake of embarrassing hidden-camera exposes and mounting congressional pressure, ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, announced last week that the group will seek independent review. Lewis said in a statement that '(a)s a result of the indefensible action of a handful of our employees, I am, in consultation with ACORN's Executive Committee, immediately ordering a halt to any new intakes into ACORN's service programs until completion of an independent review.'
Mind you, Bertha Lewis is among the ACORN senior staff and Executive Committee members who at some point concealed an apparently million dollar embezzlement from the organization by Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder and Lewis' predecessor Wade Rathke. So it is hard to believe Scott Harshbarger's first line of business will be recommending or otherwise arranging for ACORN to fire Bertha Lewis and all her admitted, embezzlement concealing co-conspirators.
Bringing in Harshbarger does not signal the first time ACORN purported to put its proverbial house in order following a major breach of public trust.
Last year ACORN's national board of directors installed an Interim Management Committee (IMC) upon learning of Dale Rathke's misdeeds and related cover up by some senior staff, including Wade Rathke, and certain ACORN Executive Committee members. After firing Wade, the national board appointed its members Karen Inman, Carol Hemmingway, and Marcel Reid to collectively act in his stead. Inman was to temporarily address legal affairs; Hemmingway considered financial matters; and Reid handled governance as ACORN's IMC.
ACORN's national board authorized its IMC to hire independent professionals to investigate and help reorganize ACORN following decades of arguable domination by the Rathke family. The IMC in turn pursued more definitive remedial actions, including a complete accounting of all ACORN assets, a forensic examination of the known embezzlement and an independent audit of ACORN and its related entities.
So what happened? Unfortunately, 38 of 50 national board members were subsequently swayed by ACORN's Executive Committee and other corporate insiders to remove the IMC and abandon its members' prudent inquiries. Nevertheless, eight courageous, now former ACORN board members, banded together and formed the ACORN 8, LLC to reform the once venerable ACORN. Marcel Reid is Chair and Karen Inman is Vice Chair of the ACORN 8.
The ACORN 8 were the first to identify the nebulous Citizen's Consulting Inc. (CCI) and attempted to "follow the money" at ACORN; the first to seek a forensic examination and independent audit of ACORN and its related organizations; the first to seek injunctions against ACORN, the Rathkes and CCI; the first to call for a national boycott of all charitable donations, federal funding and member dues otherwise payable to ACORN; and the first to formally allege civil and constitutional rights violations as well as RICO offenses against ACORN's upper management. Consequently, Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell issued subpoenas and is investigating ACORN and Wade Rathke.
According to the New York Times, Maude Hurd, chair of ACORN's board of directors, announced Scott Harshbarger's appointment. How noble of her to do so considering that Harshbarger should promptly recommend her removal from ACORN. Acting on behalf of ACORN's Executive Committee, Maude Hurde ejected the ACORN 8 from ACORN in contravention of their First Amendment right to speak out, litigate, and petition government. Title 18, section 241 of the United States Code makes it a federal crime to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, and/or intimidate people in the free exercise or enjoyment of their rights or privileges secured by the U.S. Constitution.
In any event, don't be fooled -- a "review" is not a forensic examination, independent audit, or comprehensive criminal investigation. But here is where to take comfort in Scott Harshbarger's impeccable credentials. He is sure to recognize an ole' fashioned Smoke Screen / White Wash as a former Massachusetts attorney general and gubernatorial candidate; current chief executive of the advocacy group Common Cause; and lawyer with Proskauer Rose, focusing on corporate investigations and defense as well as nonprofit governance and ethics cases.
Surely Scott Harshbarger will promptly know if his scope of authority in overseeing ACORN's internal review process is enough for him to "right the ship". And even if Harshbarger's role in ACORN's proclaimed self-reform is too superficial and/or brief, he is sure to immediately conclude ACORN should oust its embezzlement concealing co-conspirators, not to mention its criminal conspiring, constitutional rights violators.
As Chair of the Legal Affairs Committee for the ACORN 8, I accordingly say that ACORN's selection of Scott Harshbarger is a good first step towards positive, meaningful reform of ACORN. Well, actually the organization's IMC was its first good step towards that reform. Hopefully Harshbarger will avert additional ACORN missteps.
The ACORN 8, LLC (www.acorn8.com) consists of national, state and local board members, presidents or chairs. As such, the ACORN 8 is an organization of ACORN leaders; current and former board members who are struggling to reform the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now following the discovery of what may be a multi-million dollar embezzlement.