This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that would prohibit funding provided by a Homeland Security bill from being allocated to over 300 community organizations which supporters of the amendment contended had some affiliation with ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Homeland Security Department programs.
ACORN was a coalition of community-based groups that advocated on behalf of the poor with respect to affordable housing, access to health care, and voter registration. ACORN, however, had come under fire from conservatives who alleged that the group had perpetrated voter fraud. In 2009, conservative activists released damaging but selectively edited videos in which local ACORN chapters appeared to offer advice someone posing as a pimp on how to run a prostitution business. The national ACORN organization disbanded in 2010, but local affiliates continued to operate.
King urged support for his amendment: “…We must not forget that our Constitution's foundation is set upon legitimate elections; and to subsidize the people that are in the business of undermining it would be the wrong thing to do. This amendment shuts off the funding to the organizations that have a record of doing so, ACORN and their affiliates. It's a list of over 300. And I would just say over 300 sprouts from one large oak tree grew. These are the associates, the successors, and the affiliates of the larger and now some-disbanded organization known as ACORN. So I urge the adoption of my amendment.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC) opposed the amendment: “…This is an extraordinary amendment, a listing of over 3 pages of organizations by name, singled out on the floor of the House of Representatives for this kind of negative treatment, this kind of legislation that would simply render them ineligible for any kind of activity under this legislation, under this appropriations bill. Now, I seriously doubt that there is money in the Homeland Security bill that would go to any of these organizations; but still, the principle is very troubling.”
Price then began reading from the list of 300 community organization for which the amendment would prohibit the allocation of federal funds—and asked King if he could provide proof that these organizations had maintained a relationship with ACORN. King replied that he could not produce such information immediately, but could do so later.
For example, Price asked: “Does the gentleman [Rep. King] have documentation as to what kind of problems he is alleging with the Arkansas Community Housing Corporation that would warrant their inclusion on a list of this sort?”
King replied: “I am confident that I can produce that information for you. I do not have it here.”
Price argued that King’s amendment simply stigmatized hundreds of community-based groups without proof that they had maintained any collaborative relationship with ACORN: “I guess this would appear to be some kind of guilt by association, but I'm not sure it even rises to that level. Do we know about the associations of these organizations that would warrant their being tarred by this treatment here tonight? Wouldn't the gentleman have the respect for his colleagues to bring to the floor the documentation that leads him to smear these organizations and include them on this extraordinary amendment? You're expecting us to vote on this.”
King replied: “…[The] primary component of this list came from the Government Oversight Committee. We can go get the records from the committee, and we could produce those, but I don't think this Congress is interested in holding up this process while I go contact the chairman [of the Government Oversight Committee] and the staff to pull that information.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 251-168. Voting “yea” were 230 Republicans and 21 Democrats. 165 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 3 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would prohibit funding provided by a Homeland Security bill from being allocated to over 300 community organizations which supporters of the amendment contended had some affiliation with ACORN. In order for this amendment to become law, however, it would have to pass the Senate. Thus, the hundreds of community organizations targeted by King’s amendment would continue to be eligible for funds provided by Homeland Security Department funding bill unless the Senate passed similar language.