It seems the explosive financial news is seeping into every corner of the political landscape lately. Even the first presidential debate to be held this evening on the topic of foreign affairs may end up focusing more on the economy. In one case, however, simmering anger over who benefited from the housing bailout bill this summer may end up preventing some innocent Americans from voting.
Clearly, the bickering isn’t really about voters’ rights. James Terry, chief public advocate for Consumers Rights League (CRL), a nonprofit organization that supports the wide availability of credit, testified before Congress Wednesday about how corrupt the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has been in their get-out-the-vote efforts.
ACORN has had its fair share of problems, that’s true. Most of it stems from the grassroots nature of ACORN’s voter registration effort. By hiring local canvassers all over the country, and sometimes even paying them per registrant, ACORN was almost guaranteed to have problems with fraud. However, lawsuits against ACORN’s registration drives in 2004 were dismissed as frivolous and politically motivated, and the group has never been indicted for any voter misdeeds.
We don’t want to speculate here upon the veracity of these latest charges, but something more needs to be said about the motivations of this politicized battle. Why is a representative of a consumer rights group with no previously expressed interest in voters’ rights, who is far from an expert witness for voter fraud cases, testifying alongside secretaries of state before Congress on this matter?
First, a little background. One of CRL’s goals is to promote the “democratization of credit,” which is admittedly a tough job these days. With the widespread defaults on subprime mortgages, the defense of easy credit is a difficult argument to make.
But make it they do. According to the CRL Web site, the problems with subprime mortgages are negligible (yeah, they don’t seem to be at the root of this financial crisis at all). Also, CRL says banks are the good guys here, and that subprime mortgage holders’ interest rates go down, instead of ballooning up when the adjustable rate kicks in, as the vast majority of such mortgages operate:
“Of course, some small number of these consumers hasn’t yet learned to responsibly manage credit. Some of these will default on the loans. Because of this, financial institutions charge a higher rate of interest. They aren’t taking advantage of consumers. They are providing a service to consumers.”
“As sub-prime borrowers stay current on their loan payments, their interest rates tend to decline over time.”
CRL also calls the housing calamity “a personal tragedy, but not necessarily a national crisis.”
In a statement released by CRL this summer, Terry attacked Congress for a resolution in the housing bill that would give money to an affiliate of ACORN called ACORN Housing Council (AHC). He said AHC misused taxpayer funds by attacking “so-called ‘predatory’ lending practices.”
Here’s where the CRL’s venom for ACORN comes from. AHC has the audacity to offer classes to educate first-time homeowners so they won’t fall for the kind of rhetoric CRL is selling about subprime loans. AHC’s Web site says they’ll “look at your savings and credit history to see if you qualify for a mortgage,” instead of advocating the use of high interest rate, adjustable mortgages that balloon out of control.
That approach is in direct opposition to banks that offered mortgages to people who couldn’t prove they had collateral or even a source of income. Also, AHC can help current homeowners negotiate lower rates for their extant mortgages. Because they offer these services for free, they are getting money in the housing bailout bill passed this summer.
This is merely an extension of previous attacks on ACORN from Republicans and the White House. ACORN has registered millions of eligible voters since they came into existence. Most of those voters are minorities and/or from lower socio-economic levels than your average Republican. The goal of many who oppose ACORN’s efforts is to disenfranchise such potential voters, who often vote for Democrats. In their latest attempt at voter suppression, the GOP recruited CRL, a group with no interest in elections, but one that openly admits it has a vendetta against consumer advocacy groups.
It only makes sense that such a collaboration would take place. This summer, Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters who lost their homes due to foreclosure were revealed in two big swing states, Ohio and Michigan.
Whether the allegations about voter fraud at ACORN are true or not, misplaced anger over the financial meltdown shouldn’t preclude Americans from voting. Though we can’t vote on the bailout of Wall Street, we should at least be able to vote for the leaders who will stand up for us. And those who are suffering from marginalization and foreclosure are the last who should excluded from the voting booth this November.
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