Activist group draws praise, ire over tactics

Monday, August 28, 2006 Ohio has six ACORN offices throughout the state. COLUMBUS (AP) — In the three years since it arrived in Ohio, the group known as ACORN has been praised for its advocacy for low-income families but also has become a lightning rod for criticism of its tactics. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now Known calls itself the nation's largest advocate for low- and moderate-income families. Since the group set up shop in Columbus, people it pays to register new voters have twice been accused of fraud. Last week, the Franklin County Board of Elections said some signatures appeared forged on a petition seeking a vote to consider raising Ohio's minimum wage. "ACORN is the poster child of registration fraud," said state Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, adding that "people may disagree with their tactics, but no one disagrees with their goal" of getting more people to take part in politics. ACORN has fired workers suspected of fraud and worked with Franklin County officials to investigate, said Katy Gall, head organizer for Ohio ACORN. The group has "zero tolerance for any shenanigans," she said. New voters ACORN said it registered 189,000 new voters in Ohio for the 2004 presidential election, many in heavily Democratic areas. Its critics are often Republican and its defenders Democratic. The group has helped raise interest in urban areas about the proposed minimum wage increase that supporters hope to get on the Nov. 7 ballot, said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party. "It's hard to go door-to-door without running into some impact they've had," he said. But some neighborhood groups have criticized ACORN, saying it deceives people into membership and is trying to replace the smaller organizations. ACORN was founded in Arkansas in 1970 and now has a presence in 100 cities in 37 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Latin America. Active state Ohio is one of the most active states, with six offices in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton and Toledo. In Columbus, ACORN has taken on issues such as broken street lights, contaminated ponds and abandoned houses, as well as the minimum wage and health care. ACORN members knock on doors and talk to residents in an effort to determine which issues to present to corporate executives and politicians, said Barbara Clark, ACORN's local organizer. "There's power in numbers," Clark said. "They hear better if they hear more people." She said the group refuses to let politicians tell them what to do. "We tell the city, 'We're taxpayers. This is what you're going to do,'" she said. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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