How Dumb is Congress?Sep 20th, 2009 | By Jason | Category: Columns, Opinions
by Jason McGill
Last Thursday, a funny thing happened in our House of Representatives.
The House passed an amendment to a bill saying no federal funds may ever go to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, otherwise known as ACORN. ACORN itself is an umbrella organization of groups that help the poor, including doing voter registration drives, helping people access benefits, find jobs and housing, etc. You may have heard some insane rhetoric about ACORN being Obama’s shock troops or whatever, as if the poor and powerless are a threat. As if there is a threat to this country outside Wall Street.
Nevermind that Wall Street has an open account at the treasury, measuring in the trillions, and ACORN has received 53 million dollars from the federal government over the past fifteen years. Stack a handful of fraudulent voter registrations (which are bad) against the hundreds of millions of our money poured on K Street by Goldman Sachs and AIG, and you tell me which one has more influence on our political discourse.
So what’s funny about this amendment?
First of all, federal money isn’t distributed to individual organizations by Congress itself. It’s not as if someone in Congress decides the United Way gets X amount, Raytheon gets Y amount, etc. They have competitive bids for projects, or sometimes hand out no bid contracts. But the budgeting and contracting is done by the agencies or states receiving the cash, not the Congress itself. For example, the State Department, not Congress, hired the Wackenhut guards that were recently caught drinking vodka out of each other’s butts.
The contracting process is supposed to be a level playing field, and the choice is supposed to be based on merit, not political affiliation. The federal government has passed laws saying, for example, anyone receiving their dollars cannot practice discrimination in hiring and that sort of thing But it’s highly irregular for them to order that their money not go to a specific organization. (And there’s a good reason for this, as we’ll see below).
Now the Senate version of the this amendment is a little more tame. It says that no organization under federal indictment can receive federal money, and “ACORN counts as an organization.” Oh yeah, that’s actually in the amendment. It specifically says an organization, ACORN, is an organization. It doesn’t list all the organizations in the world to point out they are organizations. Only ACORN is named, and for no apparent reason other than political spite and to confer perceived guilt of imagined crimes.
But the House bill outright says no money can go to ACORN. It’s actually self defeating. Time and effort will be wasted by other organizations trying to do the things ACORN was going to do anyway. It’s not that Congress doesn’t want there to be free tax advice for the poor, it’s just dirty, filthy ACORN can’t be involved.
This is the reason money isn’t distributed directly by Congress, because insane political nonsense in Washington could seriously hamper efforts to spend the money effectively on the ground. I thought the people who hated ACORN didn’t want Washington getting involved in local affairs. Don’t we know best how to spend money, not Congress?
I know what you’re saying, “What the heck is funny about this?” Remember PLS 101? Here is a refresher:
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, Limits on Congress, forbids Congress to pass Bills of Attainder. Article I, Section 10 also forbids the states to pass Bills of Attainder, so you know they are a big deal. What are they?
Bill Of Attainder is a legislative Act which declares a person or group as guilty of any crime, there by ordering punishment to them, without allowing them a chance to represent their cause or an unbiased trial to determine whether they are guilty.
Remember innocent until proven guilty? Bills of Attainder were a cute way for the legislature to circumvent annoying “due process” constraints in the courts. They would simply declare people criminals and punish them.
Bear in mind ACORN isn’t even under investigation, let alone under indictment, let alone convicted of anything. People who in ACORN organizations were submitting fraudulent voter registrations in the past and it was ACORN who turned them in. Even if they were under indictment now, they are innocent until proven guilty. Even if convicted, Congress has no business singling them out in legislation. Punishment is for the courts, not Congress. Congress could only address all convicted groups as a class. They can’t show preference or prejudice to this or that particular group.
Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York nailed it:
The Supreme Court has ruled a bill of attainder is a legislative act that, no matter what their form, applies either to named individuals or to easily ascertainable members of a group in such a way as to inflict punishment, and then without a judicial trial. That’s exactly what this amendment does.
It may be that ACORN is guilty of various infractions, and if so, it ought to be investigated, maybe sanctioned, whatever, by the appropriate administrative agency or maybe by the judiciary. Congress must not be in the business of punishing individual organizations or people without trial.
Eh, short sighted stupidity in Congress. Violating the Constitution they claim to revere for the sake of scoring political points. Not funny enough for you?
The amendment was passed and added to the House bill on September 17.
The 222nd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution? Constitution Day?