Picking Pockets in the Pew: The CCHD Scandal

 By Mary Ann Kreitzer

On November 22, in Catholic churches around the country, ushers will pass collection baskets for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Millions of trusting Catholics will contribute “to help the poor.” What many don’t know is that their hard-earned dollars will pour into the coffers of liberal organizations promoting causes they oppose and which often hurt the poor.
In 1969, the U.S. bishops established CCHD “to fund low-income controlled empowerment projects and to educate Catholics about the root causes of poverty.”  Since then, the campaign has spent $300 million funding community and parish organizing. According to the grant application criteria on the CCHD web site, groups offering direct services, e.g., soup kitchens, day care centers, homeless shelters, etc. are ineligible. So scrap the Missionaries of Charity, your local free clinic or crisis pregnancy center; they are banned by definition. Not a single one appears on the 2007 summary of CCHD grantees.  
To be eligible, groups must organize the poor “to enact institutional change.”  That means working for “modification of existing laws and/or policies” and “establishment of participatory and just social structures and/or redistribution of decision-making powers so that people living in poverty can be involved in policy-making that affects their lives.” (There is also an “economic development” category of funding for businesses run by and creating jobs for low-income people, but it’s a small percentage of the pie – useful, however, for CCHD public relations.)
The bottom line is that CCHD primarily funds community organizers who go into neighborhoods and agitate for change using local people led by trained organizers, the real decision makers. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on the change and the tactics used, but CCHD has a shaky history of funding groups that promote radical left socialism rather than Catholicism. CCHD policy is modeled more on the failed strategies of secular poverty programs than on Catholic social justice philosophy.
In 1994, the Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly, ran a series of articles by Paul Likoudis about what was then called the Campaign for Human Development. (The word Catholic was added later.) The group was celebrating 25 years and the more than $200 million donated, ostensibly to aid the poor. Likoudis wrote that the anniversary “brought [many U.S. Catholics] to plead with the… bishops for an investigation of and an audit into what kinds of programs the ecclesiastical apparat has funded.” He exposed a broad range of serious problems. They included financing organizations that support abortion and contraception, funneling money into leftist groups working for socialistic political goals and organizing voter drives to elect radical politicians. (In 1996, leading pro-life Congressman Bob Dornan was targeted by CCHD-funded groups that worked to elect pro-abortion playgirl Loretta Sanchez.)
Likoudis exposed the intimate connection between atheist Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and CCHD. Alinsky, the granddaddy of a new type of community organizing, promoted radical and immoral means. Some of the tactics used by those trained in his method will be described later in this article. No longer were Catholics to follow the Church’s long history of Catholic Action, which addresses both body and soul through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The new paradigm would educate the poor in their neighborhoods and middle-class Catholics in their parishes to acquire power using whatever tactics were necessary, then use that power to bring about systemic change. 
Organization strategies came from Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, dedicated to Lucifer, and works based on it, like Dean Brackley’s Organize: A Manual for Leaders. Organize (copyrighted by the Jesuits and published by liberal Paulist Press) calls for tactics “from banners and posters to public service announcements, picketing, threatening lawsuits…’destruction of your own property,’ protests, teach-ins, walkouts, registering voters, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, ‘overloading the system’ (for example ‘100 people ask for medical help in the emergency room or clinic’) … to the most important thing: controlling a meeting with public officials.”
While some of the strategies are perfectly fine, presuming a moral end and charitably carried out (think of the rescue movement at abortion mills), the Alinsky model encourages lying, manipulation, stirring up class antagonisms and mob action. Manipulating power to coerce both government and private business is a primary strategy of both IAF and ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now), two of the organizations receiving a generous portion of CCHD funds over the years. Likoudis described ACORN’s 1992 efforts to organize the Shaw area of Washington, D.C. (a depressed neighborhood where I student-taught in 1967). When local Korean small businesses refused to financially support ACORN’s efforts, they organized a shakedown, picketing outside shops. As one merchant said, “This is something the Mafia would do.”
Likoudis noted a study by the Capital Research Center in Washington that called CCHD’s 25- year legacy “a dreadful failure.” He summarized CCHD’s efforts saying, “What [C]CHD has actually done is offer the poor ‘a false faith in the power of government,’ and 25 years and $200 million later, the worsening misery index of Americans can be measured by dramatic rises in homicide and suicide rates, abortion and illegitimate births, divorce and huge increases in the numbers of people living in poverty – all accompanied by exponential increases in government spending on ‘poverty programs.’”
Have things changed since Likoudis’ 1994 report? Yes and no. In 1998, the campaign changed its name by adding the word Catholic and, the next year, issued new guidelines supposedly assuring that CCHD grants would comply with Catholic moral doctrine. “But since these changes were made, CCHD seems to have plodded along the same weary course…. stuck in, as one observer called it, a ‘60s time warp’ happy to fund leftwing, big-government political mobilization and ‘anti-poverty’ groups,” Human Events reported in 2000. That description still applies today. CCHD primarily supports groups committed to government solutions. If they worked, of course, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society would have solved the problem of poverty decades ago. As it is, CCHD pours good money after bad.
So who does CCHD fund and how do these groups use the money? According to Stephanie Block, a researcher with extensive files on CCHD’s links to community organizing, Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) rakes in about 16% of all grants annually. ACORN, a group that is separate from but similar to IAF, receives about 5%. And there are others. A third to one-half of all funded organizations are Alinskyite groups with philosophies antithetical to Catholic teaching on social justice.
Since ACORN is easy to identify on the CCHD grant list, it’s a good group to target for analysis. The 2007 grant summary, a 24-page rundown of groups receiving between $25,000 and $50,000 each, shows that about three dozen ACORN affiliates received over a million dollars. That’s quite a chunk of Catholic change. So what exactly are the faithful (and the poor) getting for the money?
In 2006, the Employment Policies Institute released a study called Rotten ACORN: America’s Bad Seed. It describes ACORN as a “vast web of groups run by long-time anti-corporate activist Wade Rathke and a handful of his closest allies…[with] more than 75 organizations run … out of one office … in New Orleans” (page 2). The 30-page report with 140 footnotes goes on to describe what essentially is the “Rathke family business” (p. 3) which is up to its neck in voter fraud, shaking down banks and private businesses, funneling massive amounts of money into the pockets of family members through its spiderweb of networks and mistreating its employees. Rathke was forced out in 2008 after his brother, Dale, embezzled almost a million dollars, and he covered it up keeping his brother on the payroll for eight years after the 2000 crime. 
Rathke’s agenda was not about promoting the well-being of ACORN members but building his own power. “An internal ACORN manual instructed organizers to sign up as many residents as possible because ‘this is a mass organization directed at political power where might makes right’” (p. 16).
Consumer Rights League’s chief public advocate, James Terry, testified on September 24, 2008  at a joint House Administration Subcommittee and House Judiciary Subcommittee oversight hearing concerning “Federal State and Local Efforts to Prepare for the General 2008 Election.” Terry described ACORN’s “decade-long history of voter fraud, embezzlement, and misuses of taxpayer funds…We know about the thousands of potentially fraudulent voter registration cards turned in by ACORN and caught by officials…how many more fraudulent registrations have not been discovered…we believe it is fair to question how many fraudulent registrations may lead to fraudulent votes or what other activities they are willing to undertake to influence the election…We respectfully submit that our nations’ election system is facing a concerted campaign that raises serious issues” (pp. 12-13).
Terry wasn’t talking through his hat. In July 2007, ACORN was involved in the largest case of voter fraud in Washington State history.  Similar schemes occurred in at least a dozen other states including Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, and Colorado among others (Employment Policies Institute, pp. 18-20). Investigations of ACORN were instigated in numerous states, including Missouri, where during the 2006 midterm elections, “St. Louis election officials were … inundated with bogus Acorn-generated voter registrants…. over 1,000 addresses listed on its registrations don’t exist.” In 2006 in Kansas City, the Republican head of the Board of Elections said 40% of the 35,000 ACORN registrations appeared to be fakes. ACORN has also used federal grants illegally to engage in political activity.
And who are the primary recipients of ACORN’s hard work? Democrats. In 2004, ACORN internal documents disclosed its strategy to use a minimum wage campaign in Florida to “increase voter turnout of working class, mainly Democratic voters without increasing opposition turnout.” ACORN pumped nearly $20 million dollars into the contested 2004 presidential election (Employment Policies Institute,  p. 18).
Democratic partisan politics is ACORN’s legacy. In 2005, Gary Delgado, founding ACORN organizer, shared a story at a conference on the group’s history. “ACORN was early on interested in registering voters….We did not register a single Republican in that election [1970 Arkansas governor’s race]” (Employment Policies Institute,  p. 16). In 1980, ACORN was actively promoting a Democrat for president “urging its members to register and vote in primary elections and caucuses. In certain states it had considerable influence. In Michigan, for example, ACORN delegates proved important in Senator Edward Kennedy’s [primary] campaign” (Employment Policies Institute, p. 17) and worked for Jesse Jackson in 1984 (Employment Policies Institute,   p. 17). The Wall Street Journal reported April 29, 2008 that “ACORN’s national political arm has endorsed Mr. Obama. And its ‘nonpartisan’ voter registration affiliate has announced plans to register hundreds of thousands of voters before the November election.”  Nonpartisan?
Not surprisingly ACORN opposes voter identification laws. In 1995, Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar refused to implement the “Motor Voter” law, which allowed postcard registration, which he felt invited fraud. The young lawyer who sued on behalf of ACORN and won was Barack Obama. Obama was no stranger to ACORN. According to Block, “Obama ran [its] 1992 voter-registration drive, Project Vote, and in turn received ACORN’s endorsement for Illinois senator.”  ACORN has challenged many state efforts to limit voter fraud by requiring identification at the polls. It’s no wonder, in view of its history, which includes padding voter rolls with the names of underage, dead and nonexistent persons. 
ACORN’s immoral actions are not limited to voter fraud. According to Stanley Kurtz, writing in the New York Post September 29, 2008, “intimidation tactics, public charges of racism and threats…have enabled ACORN to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and contributions from America’s financial institutions.”  
With aid from CCHD grants, ACORN helped force passage of President Bill Clinton’s changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1995. Those changes required banks to get satisfactory CRA ratings (necessary for mergers) by demonstrating that they were providing a significant number of loans to poor, middle class and minority home buyers. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of bad loans to people who couldn’t afford them (including illegal aliens), a problem which contributed to the current economic crisis. 
A key player in what’s been described as the “housing shakedown,” ACORN used typical Alinskyite tactics to pressure banks to meet its demands. For example, in 1992 Madeline Talbott, Chicago head of ACORN, “announced plans to conduct demonstrations in the lobbies of area banks…. She insisted that banks show a commitment to minority lending by lowering their standards on down payments and underwriting – for example by overlooking bad credit histories. By September 1992, [t]he Chicago Tribune was describing Talbott’s program as ‘affirmative-action lending’ and ACORN was issuing fact sheets bragging about relaxations of credit standards that it had won on behalf of minorities.”  
Talbott pressured five Chicago financial institutions, two of whom had experienced her direct action bullying, to participate in a pilot program to give mortgages to individuals with bad credit histories. “What made this program different…was the participation of Fannie Mae – which agreed to buy up the [bad] loans.”
ACORN frequently serves as an “adviser” to banks seeking mergers. When J.P. Morgan wanted to merge with Chase Manhattan, ACORN became the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands in donations from both Morgan and Chase. (ACORN Housing Corporation’s 2000 tax return shows grants from Bank of America, Fleet Services Corp., Fannie Mae, Chase Manhattan, and Wells Fargo totaling $4,752,198 [Employment Policies Institute, p. 26].) 
“The banks that ACORN has shaken down refuse to discuss their contributions to a political organization that, to put it mildly, is hostile to free enterprise,” wrote Sol Stern, of the Manhattan Institute, in 2003. Talbott’s pressure tactics are typical of ACORN organizers in every state because they all come from the Alinsky game book. They were the same tactics used by top ACORN activist, Mitch Klein, in the early 2000s. He “injected a new aggressiveness into the Baltimore chapter. Underlings piled garbage in front of City Hall to protest lack of services in poor neighborhoods, wielded huge inflated rubber sharks to disrupt a bankers’ dinner, and – most controversially – staged a profanity-laced protest in front of [the mayor’s] home…. (Despite – or perhaps because of – the intimidation, ACORN still gets $50,000 a year from the city of Baltimore to provide housing counseling to the poor.)”  
An even more egregious example of intimidation happened in New York City when Mayor Rudy Giuliani proposed the takeover of five of NYC’s worst schools by Edison Schools, Inc., a for-profit educational group. ACORN opposed the move [by] distributing flyers (printed at public expense) lying about Edison’s record. Using school lists extorted from city officials, they bombarded parents with letters and phone calls and stacked public forums in Harlem with ACORN activists who shouted down the Edison representatives. The plan was abandoned. 
Failing inner city schools are one of the most serious problems for the poor. One might think a group concerned about their welfare would support the option of school choice, but ACORN has consistently resisted any effort to allow the poor to escape the public school monopoly. As Stern said, “[ACORN] promotes a 1960s-bred agenda of anti-capitalism, central planning, victimology, and government handouts to the poor. As a result, not only does it harm the poor it claims to serve; it is also a serious threat to the urban future.” So why does it receive millions of dollars from CCHD?
But there’s another ugly aspect to ACORN that makes Catholic funding for its activities baffling. While the organization bullies others to pay minimum wage and treat employees justly, a growing cadre of ACORN whistle-blowers describe the awful treatment of the group’s own employees. A blog called “The Real ACORN” describes how workers have been lied to, not paid, refused benefits, etc. In Florida, dozens of unpaid employees “turned a Miami campaign office upside down in anger…. Elizabeth Andrades, who heads the Hialeah office of [ACORN] , said a boisterous crowd took over the Miami office …. One woman carried a bat. The kitchenette was set on fire, she said.” It’s hard to empathize as ACORN feels the sting of its own mob tactics used against it. 
Mistreatment of these employees was not an isolated case. In 2006, Bruce Bartlett writing in Human Events, described how ACORN sued California for exemption to the minimum wage law. Its brief argued, “A person paid limited sums of money will be in a better position to empathize with and relate to the low and moderate membership and constituency of ACORN.”  Maybe paying nothing would be even more effective! The hypocrisy staggers the imagination. ACORN has denied workers the right to organize, something they demand from private businesses. In 2001, the Seattle office attempted to unionize. ACORN management retaliated by locking workers out. They settled later for $20,000. In Dallas, in the same year, workers who threatened to organize were fired, an act the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2003 violated the law.  
In view of all the information readily available about ACORN, why does CCHD continue to fund it year after year to the tune of multimillions of dollars? One must conclude that promoting the liberal Democratic agenda is what the campaign is all about, a fact Likoudis documented in 1994 that remains unchanged today. 
But do the bishops know? Block’s opinion: “A few bishops understand exactly what the [CCHD] is and approve what it funds. Most, however, swallow the concept of its ‘helping the poor’ and have probed no deeper.” But what about CCHD staffers? Who’s minding the store? Everything in this article is easily available on the internet. If all the organizations funded by CCHD receive as little scrutiny as ACORN, the faithful should keep a tight grip on their wallets. Considering that 40% of ACORN’s budget comes from tax revenue, Catholic citizens’ pockets are being picked twice!
In conclusion, when the ushers pass the basket on November 22, faithful Catholics should drop in a note saying why they will never put a penny in the CCHD collection until it follows Catholic social justice teachings, instead of serving as a conduit for left-wing liberal extortionists. Then write a check to a local charity that truly serves the poor. What else can you do? Give this report to your bishop and your pastor. Telling people CCHD helps the poor while funding groups like ACORN borders on fraud. 
Mary Ann Kreitzer is president of the Catholic Media Coalition, as well as president of Les Femmes (a lay Catholic media apostolate in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia), and editor of its quarterly newsletter, the Truth.  The CMC is a nationwide organization of Catholic writers, webmasters, editors and others whose mission is to report truthfully about the Catholic Church and to defend, foster and spread authentic Catholic faith and culture. This article is adapted from an article originally published by the CMC (which includes endnotes) and featured here with its kind permission.

For more information on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and to participate in American Life League’s “No thank you!” card campaign, in response to the CCHD’s annual collection (Sunday, November 22 in parishes nationwide), visit www.all.org/cchd