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10.13.2008

How ACORN Grew Nutty Financial Policies

Stanley Kurtz digs deeply enough into the subprime mortgage crisis to find ACORN:

Yet ACORN had only just begun. Two days later, 50 to 100 of the same protesters hit their main target - a House Banking subcommittee considering changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, a law that allows groups like ACORN to force banks into making high-risk loans to low-credit customers.

The CRA's ostensible purpose is to prevent banks from discriminating against minorities. But Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ), who chaired the subcommittee, was worried that charges of discrimination had become an excuse for lowering credit standards. She warned that new, Democrat-proposed CRA regulations could amount to an illegal quota system.

FOR years, ACORN had combined manipulation of the CRA with intimidation-protest tactics to force banks to lower credit standards. Its crusade, with help from Democrats in Congress, to push these high-risk "subprime" loans on banks is at the root of today's economic meltdown.

When the role of ACORN and congressional Democrats in the mortgage crisis is pointed out, Democrats reply that banks subject to the CRA represent only about a quarter of the loans that led to our current troubles. In fact, the problem goes way beyond the CRA.

As ACORN ran its campaigns against local banks, it quickly hit a roadblock. Banks would tell ACORN they could afford to reduce their credit standards by only a little - since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage giants, refused to buy up those risky loans for sale on the "secondary market."

That is, the CRA wasn't enough. Unless Fannie and Freddie were willing to relax their credit standards as well, local banks would never make home loans to customers with bad credit histories or with too little money for a downpayment.

So ACORN's Democratic friends in Congress moved to force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to dispense with normal credit standards. Throughout the early '90s, they imposed ever-increasing subprime-lending quotas on Fannie and Freddie.

But then the Republicans won control of Congress - and Rep. Roukema scheduled her hearing. ACORN went into action to protect its golden goose.

IT struck as Roukema aired her concerns at that hearing. Pro testers, led by ACORN President Maud Hurd, stood up and began chanting, "CRA has got to stay!" and "Banks for greed, not for need!" The protesters then demanded the microphone.

With the hearing interrupted and the demonstrators refusing to leave, Roukema called the Capital Police, who arrested Hurd and four others for "disorderly conduct in a Capital building" - a charge carrying a penalty of a $500 fine, six months in prison or both. As the police arrived, two of the protesters menacingly approached Roukema's desk, still demanding the hearing microphone.

Requests to the Capital Police to release the activists from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass,) failed. Then Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) showed up at the jail and refused to leave until the protesters were released; the Capital Police relented.

Meanwhile, instead of repudiating ACORN's intimidation tactics, Rep. Kennedy berated Roukema for arresting one of his constituents and accused the Republicans of preparing for "an all-out attack on CRA." He also promised to introduce legislation to expand the CRA's coverage to mortgage bankers and large credit unions.

THIS little slice of political life from 1995 had a variety of ripple effects. Above all, ACORN's intimidation tactics, and its alliance with Democrats in Congress, triumphed. Despite their 1994 takeover of Congress, Republicans' attempts to pare back the CRA were stymied.

Instead, Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Reps. Kennedy and Waters allied with the Clinton administration to broaden the acceptability of risky subprime loans throughout the financial system, thus precipitating our current crisis.


If only John McCain were sharp enough to speak as clearly about the real causes of this mess. It is not complicated.

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