ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been much in the news of late, as the group is being investigated by the FBI and by the state’s of Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, and Washington for possible voter registration fraud. Some have claimed that ACORN is trying to swing the election in favor of Senator Obama via illegal means. Others claim that ACORN is a good group, unfairly maligned by Republicans desperate to distract attention from their own dismal election prospects.
My familiarity with the group dates from a case a few years ago in California involving the minimum wage. You see, in addition to its voter registration activities, ACORN is a big advocate and agitator in favor of living wage ordinances, which it has helped to pass in several localities. In 1995, however, the group sued for an exemption to California’s $4.25 an hour minimum wage, claiming that the law was unconstitutional (only as applied to them). According to the Court, ACORN sought to justify it’s position as follows:
ACORN contends that California’s minimum wage laws, while facially constitutional as supported by the compelling state interest of ensuring wages adequate to maintain a decent standard of living (see Industrial Welfare Com. v. Superior Court, (1980) 27 Cal.3d 690, 701), are unconstitutional as applied to ACORN because they restrict ACORN’s ability to engage in political advocacy. According to ACORN, this adverse impact will be manifested in two ways: first, ACORN will be forced to hire fewer workers; second, its workers, if paid the minimum wage, will be less empathetic with ACORN’s low and moderate income constituency and will therefore be less effective advocates.
ACORN v. Department of Industrial Relations, 48 Cal. App. 4th 298, 300-01 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1995).
The first argument is, of course, the main argument used by opponents of the minimum wage, namely, that forcing businesses to pay above market wages will mean that fewer workers will be hired. The second argument (that paying workers more would make them less empathetic with ACORN’s “low and moderate income constituency”) is one no self-respecting opponent of the minimum wage would ever be caught making. (In case you’re wondering, the Court rejected ACORN’s arguments).
As with some other left-wing groups, ACORN also has a history of union-busting (with regard to its own employees, mind you; they are very pro-union for everyone else). Whatever one’s politics, it’s not the sort of organization I would recommend going to bat for.