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A closer look at ACORN Sting uncovers outrageous actions, but investigation is still needed

The scandal surrounding the community organizing group ACORN demands serious investigation, and it might even be correct for the federal government to put a hold on funding that the group receives. But immediate right-wing demands to flat-out defund the group are far out in front of the facts -- though you wouldn't know it from the way Congress is responding.

The facts, as known, are simultaneously preposterous and shocking. A couple of conservative ringers, posing as a prostitute and her pimp, secretly recorded conversations with two ACORN employees, who counseled them on how to disguise their line of work to evade taxes and get housing assistance. That's outrageous, but so was the sting operation that has produced an over-the-top response.

ACORN says the couple traveled to multiple ACORN offices in several cities before getting the result they wanted from ACORN housing workers in Washington, Baltimore and Brooklyn. That suggests the possibility that what the "prostitute and pimp" finally turned up were bad apples of the sort that lurk in virtually every large organization. When they turn up in other organizations, seldom is there a demand that the entire organization be shuttered.

What should be demanded are answers, not just about the specific incident but how the miscreants came to hold positions of authority. In the case of ACORN, it is fair to ask if the organization's management structure is too loose to be trusted to use millions of dollars of taxpayers' money wisely.

But questions also need to be asked of the questioners. If it is true that the two scammers went to multiple ACORN offices before hitting the jackpot, was an uncovering of isolated offenses distorted for political purposes? And what of the ensuing overheated calls to immediately cut off ACORN's funding, which has been used in part to offer a housing lifeline to the impoverished? What of the members of Congress who went along with it?

ACORN has had a spotty record, which doesn't help its standing as it confronts this problem. Last year, ACORN workers were found to have filled out voter registration cards in the name of Mickey Mouse and other bogus voters. It's possible that the undercover video operation turned up something that is revelatory about ACORN. But we won't know without a diligent and dispassionate investigation.

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