by Max Brantley
You know Acorn. You know the grassroots organization, now a national power, got its start here, led by Wade Rathke (pictured), who spent the group's formative years wheeling and dealing in Little Rock before moving to New Orleans. The local affiliate remains a powerful voice for poor people.
Depending on your point of view, you'll be saddened or gladdened to learn this shocking news:
The New York Times reports today that founder Rathke's brother embezzled $1 million from the organization eight years ago and the matter was handled internally.He stayed on the payroll until a month ago, when whistleblowers finally forced him out.
Wade Rathke said the organization had signed a restitution agreement with his brother in which his family agreed to repay the amount embezzled in exchange for confidentiality.
Wade Rathke stepped down as Acorn’s chief organizer on June 2, the same day his brother left, but he remains chief organizer for Acorn International L.L.C.
He said the decision to keep the matter secret was not made to protect his brother but because word of the embezzlement would have put a “weapon” into the hands of enemies of Acorn, a liberal group that is a frequent target of conservatives who object to its often strident advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and workers.
Wade Rathke said he learned of the problem when an employee of Citizens Consulting alerted him about suspicious credit card transactions. An internal investigation uncovered inappropriate charges on the cards that led back to his brother.
“Clearly, this was an uncomfortable, conflicting and humiliating situation as far as my family and I were concerned,” he said, “and so the real decisions on how to handle it had to be made by others.”
If one of the prosperous businesses or public officials Rathke and Acorn have bedeviled and humiliated over the years had offered this alibi for wrongdoing, the appropriate response then, as it is now, would have been simple: Bull****.
Rathke has made a gift to Acorn's enemies by putting his family ahead of integrity. Stunner of a story.