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Spin Control

Thanks for calling, but there’s no ACORN office here

There’s no ACORN office in the Inland Northwest.

Nothing in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Pullman, Colville, Sandpoint, Republic, Metaline Falls, Kellogg…

We could go on with the geography lesson, but we suspect you get the drift.

Some readers — some of whom might more accurately be described as FOX News viewers, because they admit they don’t actually read the paper — have been calling The Spokesman-Review newsroom this week to ask why we haven’t reported on the ACORN scandals.

Actually, the newspaper has had stories on the ACORN problems. There was one Wednesday morning. And one Tuesday morning. And one last Saturday morning. And one last Friday morning. And one last Thursday morning.

When told this, callers sometimes ask which ones were on the front page. The answer is none.

The reason? Because none of these reported problems …


…is happening anywhere near where we distribute newspapers.

While it’s true that there are things on the front page that aren’t happening in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene or elsewhere in the Inland Northwest, they tend to be things that have some connection to our readers. Health care, for example, is something that touches a big segment of our economy, as well as readers who have health insurance, or might get sick. So the federal government’s struggle with health care reform, which sometimes is an interesting philosophical discussion and other times resembles a WWF tag-team match, often gets front page play.

Another news operation’s reporting of a “sting” in which videographers pose as a pimp and a prostitute and go into an office in Baltimore or San Bernadino seeking federal aid doesn’t quite rise to the front page level of the health care debate.

Other callers ask if we have a reporter investigating ACORN. The answer is no, for pretty much the same reason. We don’t have a reporter in Baltimore or San Bernadino.

ACORN did get into a bit of regional trouble in 2006-7, when some of the people it hired to register voters before the 2006 elections were caught forging the names of the people they claimed to be registering. That happened a little closer to us, in the Puget Sound, where Washington state’s sole ACORN office is.

The group was paying people to go out and collect voter registrations, and some of these folks were pulling names out of a phone book and filling out registration forms, which, let’s face it, is so much easier than pounding the pavements, approaching people and asking them if they’re registered.  Easier, but illegal.

That became a cause celebre for Washington conservatives for a while, because they argued quite persuasively that if ACORN registration mercencaries got caught faking about 2,000 signatures, whose to say they didn’t get caught faking thousands more? That’s a valid argument, but some of ACORN’s critics overstated the case when they called this “voter fraud.” There’s no evidence that people ever voted based on these fraudulent registrations.

(And logic sort of suggests they would not have. Think about it: I make up a name, and an address and a signature so I can get paid for registering voters. I pocket my fee and skip town. The county sends a ballot to a fake person or a fake address, it gets returned to sender. It send it to a real person at a real address who didn’t fill out the form, the signature bounces.)

While most of the reporting on that was done by Seattle news media and the wire services, The Spokesman-Review ran those stories, and Spin Control even comment on them.

Washington ACORN changed its voter registration practices for 2008, president John Jones said. It asked people who came into the offices seeking help on other issues if they were registered to vote, and if not, did they want to be. In other words, they operated it just like the state of Washington does when someone gets a drivers license, goes to a Department of Social and Health Services or Employment Security office.

As for 2006, he ascribed the problems to “bad practices by bad people.” Washington ACORN did pay a $25,000 fine, which he said paid for the prosecution of the six miscreants responsible for problems.

Jones said that ACORN might open an office in Spokane someday, but has no timetable. Right now they’re busy with programs in the I-5 corridor. No one has come into Washington office (which is in Burien) asking for help in setting up a house of prostitution, which is the sting used in four other cities. If they did, Jones believes, they wouldn’t get far because Washington state’s operation is staffed by professionally trained people “who know they’re always coming for us.”


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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