WASHINGTON — Responding to Republican charges that the community organizing group ACORN has misused federal grants, the Justice Department's inspector general said Monday that he'd assess whether ACORN got any department funds, and if it did, what it did with the money.
In a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Inspector General Glenn Fine also said that his office would review whether the Justice Department has audited any money that ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) might have received.
According to Republican lawmakers and a top ACORN official, the grassroots organization has received some $53 million in federal funding since 1994.
Republicans began calling for federal investigations of the group after ACORN workers at several offices offered questionable tax advice to two conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her pimp.
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Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, last week sent letters to seven other federal agencies, asking them to review ACORN's funding.
The letters ask for a review of grants, contracts and entitlements that ACORN has received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration, the Federal Election Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Elections Assistance Commission, the Department of Labor and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Late Monday, Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said a preliminary review found that the department hasn't directly given ACORN any grants since President Barack Obama took office in January.
Last week, the Senate voted to prohibit ACORN funding in its spending bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, and the House of Representatives voted to deny all federal funds to ACORN.
ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson said ACORN would work with the Department of Justice on its review.
"We welcome the Justice Department's inquiry to help bring the truth to light and to allow us to focus on the important issues facing low- and moderate-income Americans," Levenson said.
Criticism of ACORN increased in recent weeks after the two undercover conservative activists made videos at several ACORN offices, showing staffers offering tax advice that appeared to encourage illegal behavior.
At one office in Philadelphia, however, the staff filed a police report after the couple left. At another, in California, an ACORN staffer called a relative who worked as a police officer, an ACORN spokesman said.
In an interview aired Sunday, President Barack Obama called the videos "disturbing" and said there should be an investigation.
ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis announced last week that the organization would hire an independent auditor to review the organization's practices. It also halted all new intakes at its community service offices.
In an appearance last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller agreed to look into whether the bureau should be investigating allegations that the ACORN workers broke the law.
Shortly before the 2008 presidential elections, the FBI opened an investigation into allegations by Republicans that ACORN was engaging in voter fraud. Since then, the FBI hasn't commented on the status of the investigation.
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