ACORN, Blackwater and the accountability disparity

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to cut off federal funds to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now or ACORN, a national grassroots group that advocates for poor and modest-income families. The House vote of 345 to 75 came three days after the Senate cut off Housing and Urban Development funding to the group.

But some of the same members of Congress who were quick to take action against ACORN have not been as responsive when other federal contractors have engaged in wrongdoing -- like Blackwater, the North Carolina-based private military company now known as Xe.

First, some background: The cutoff of federal funding to ACORN was a response to the uproar after conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe released a hidden-camera video in which they posed as a prostitute and a pimp and sought assistance from ACORN staff in a number of the group's offices. The edited video, which has been widely aired on Fox News, appears to show two employees in the organization's Baltimore office offering advice on evading taxes and disguising the identities of underaged sex workers trafficked from El Salvador.

ACORN fired the two staff members seen in the video, calling their actions "indefensible," and announced it was launching an internal review process. But ACORN management's response to the wrongdoing was not enough to satisfy lawmakers, who clearly felt they needed to take punitive action of their own.

We thought it would be interesting to compare this week's tough House action against ACORN with what came to pass in Congress in 2007 following the deadly shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square by Blackwater employees.

In October of that year, in response to the Nisoor Square massacre, the House took up a bill sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) designed to tighten accountability for private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones. Price's legislation did not go so far as to propose cutting off federal funds to war-zone contractors involved in wrongdoing but simply proposed subjecting their employees to prosecution by U.S. courts.

On Oct. 4, 2007, following the adoption of an amendment designed to ensure the action would not interfere with U.S. intelligence, the House passed Price's bill by a vote of 389 to 30.

If we look at the list of the 30 lawmakers who voted against Price's bill, we see that 23 of them voted for cutting off funds to ACORN.

In other words, 23 lawmakers were willing to hold ACORN accountable -- but not Blackwater.

Those 23 lawmakers, 13 of whom hail from the South, are:

* Rodney Alexander (R-La.)
* Joe Barton (R-Texas)
* Charles Boustany (R-La.)
* Paul Broun (R-Ga.)
* Michael Burgess (R-Tx.)
* Steve Buyer (R-Ind.)
* Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)
* Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)
* Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)
* Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)
* Sam Johnson (R-Texas)
* Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.)
* John Linder (R-Ga.)
* Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)
* Gary Miller (R-Calif.)
* Joe Pitts (R-Pa.)
* Tom Price (R-Ga.)
* Mike Rogers (R-Ala.)
* Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)
* Pete Sessions (R-Texas)
* John Shadegg (R-Ariz.)
* Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.)
* Don Young (R-Alaska)

The other seven lawmakers who voted against Price's bill are no longer in Congress. They are Reps. Richard Baker (R-La.), Chris Cannon (R-Utah), John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Jim McCrery (R-La.), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.).

While it would also be interesting to extend the comparison to the Senate, it's not possible: A companion bill to Price's legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama stalled in that chamber due to Republican opposition.