WASHINGTON - It's Betty McCollum vs. Michele Bachmann in a congressional smackdown over ACORN, the community organization that's been the target of Republican attacks since the 2008 presidential election.
Just weeks after embarrassing footage from an amateur sting prompted the U.S. House to defund ACORN, Rep. McCollum, D-Minn., is introducing a similar bill aimed at barring federal dollars to corporations that run afoul of the law.
"It just points out the hypocrisy," McCollum said in an interview Wednesday. "Here we have corporations that have been convicted of felonies, and continue to do business with the government."
McCollum's bill serves as a pointed rebuttal to a GOP-led assault on the scandal-tainted community organizing group, which has registered tens of thousands of low-income and minority voters across the nation.
The bill, dubbed the "Against Corporations Organizing to Rip-off the Nation Act (ACORN)," is a play on ACORN's real moniker, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
Among ACORN's most outspoken critics in Congress has been Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican who sponsored a pair of bills meant to block the group from participating in federal housing and census programs.
"We're pleased to see that Congresswoman McCollum, who has voted at least twice this year to protect ACORN's access to taxpayer funds, has a newfound interest in protecting taxpayers," said Bachmann spokeswoman Debbee Keller.
McCollum and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., were among 75 House Democrats who opposed the measure defunding ACORN earlier this month. Bachmann at the time called it "a tremendous victory for the taxpayer."
A similar action aimed at ACORN in the U.S. Senate won overwhelming bipartisan support, including from Minnesota Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
The House and Senate votes followed a highly-publicized hidden-camera video by activist filmmakers showing several ACORN workers apparently advising a couple posing as a prostitute and her pimp. The incidents, in Baltimore and Washington, stirred conservative critics, who have long accused the group of fraud in its massive voter registration drives.
McCollum, noting that her legislation is modeled after the House measure defunding ACORN, argues that Congress should crack down just as rigorously on private contractors and corporations that do business with the government.
Singling out Pfizer
Just as the Republican-backed bill singled out ACORN, McCollum's bill singles out Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant that settled earlier this month on behalf of a subsidiary that was the subject of a health-care fraud probe. The company agreed to pay $1.3 billion in criminal restitution and $1 billion to resolve civil allegations of kickbacks.
Pfizer spokesman Rick Chambers called McCollum's allegations "unfounded," saying the company has taken "aggressive actions" to address the circumstances involving the settlement with its subsidiary, Pharmacia & Upjohn Co.
ACORN has said that it too is taking action to address what it says were anomalies within its organization.
Pfizer's political action committee (PAC) has been a large contributor to Bachmann. But McCollum has also received money from entities that have crossed a legal line, including a PAC associated with Unisys, which pleaded guilty in a 1990s government procurement scandal. She also has received contributions from officials at HealthEast Care System hospitals, which paid $2.28 million earlier this year to settle allegations of overcharging Medicare.
McCollum says her bill is about preventing future funding embarrassments.
"That's the thing about legislation," McCollum said. "You're supposed to write it to move forward. This is to clean the house."
Her bill would prohibit corporations with a felony conviction from receiving any federal funding or making federal campaign contributions for five years. It would also limit their lobbying during that period.
Bachmann's proposals targeting ACORN, by contrast, would defund a group on the basis of an indictment, whether or not it leads to a conviction.
Beyond making a statement about the congressional votes against ACORN, it's uncertain how far McCollum's bill will get in the House, where a majority of Democrats joined in the measure to defund the group.
"We have just seen the bill," said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "We don't comment on every bill."
McCollum, however, vowed to sign up more sponsors to mount a battle over corporate responsibility and ACORN, which continues to be a lightning rod for a continuing partisan battle with tentacles in nearly every state.
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753