ACORN finances leave questions

The political advocacy group ACORN is "limping along" near bankruptcy, which could affect a pending voter registration case in Nevada, a lawyer for the group said Monday.

"ACORN is still limping along. It has not filed for bankruptcy, which is the state's concern," attorney Lisa Rasmussen, representing the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, told Clark County District Judge Donald Mosley.

Rasmussen said outside court that it was unclear whether a bankruptcy filing would make moot the Nevada criminal case stemming from allegations that ACORN illegally set quotas and paid canvassers based on the number of voter registration applications they turn in.

ACORN is charged with compensation for registration of voters. A former ACORN regional director, Amy Busefink, 27, of Seminole, Fla., is charged with principal to the crime of compensation for registration of voters. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for the trial to proceed in Las Vegas, denying as premature an ACORN request to rule on the constitutionality of the compensation charge. The trial is set for Nov. 29.

Conrad Hafen, a chief deputy state attorney general, said neither bankruptcy nor dissolution would "necessarily protect (ACORN) from prosecution" in Nevada.

A conviction for ACORN could mean a $5,000 fine. Busefink would face probation or less than one year in jail if convicted. Another former ACORN official pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and agreed to testify at trial in return for a sentence including probation, a fine and community service.

"Amy is disappointed in this whole proceeding," her lawyer, Bradley Schrager, said outside court. "But if she has to, she's prepared to go to trial."

Rasmussen's characterization of ACORN's financial health echoed comments in April by ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis in New York that the nonprofit was "still alive ... on life support" with an annual budget of $4 million instead of the $25 million budget it used to have. Lewis had said a staff of more than 350 workers had been cut to four.

Congress cut ACORN's federal funding after secretly taped videos caught workers at group offices around the country giving bad advice, sparking a national scandal.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan is considering an appeal of a federal judge's ruling that the funding cutoff was unconstitutional because Congress did not determine whether money had been mishandled.

ACORN describes itself as an advocate for low-income and minority home buyers and residents. Critics have accused the group of voter registration fraud, embezzlement and violating tax-exempt status by engaging in partisan political activities.