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From small ACORNs, great votes grow

Remember the mini-flap over the settlement terms of a lawsuit the Minnesota Attorney General’s office filed against Capital One Bank? Buried in the June report on the AGO by Legislative Auditor James Nobles was the revelation that the suit (filed by then-AG Mike Hatch) was settled for $749,999. If the case had settled for a dollar more, the money would have gone into the general fund for the Legislature to distribute.

About a third of that amount ($249,999 — there are those nines again) went to Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a nonprofit that calls itself the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families.

If you haven’t heard much of ACORN, you might soon. The group was the focus of a story in the Wall Street Journal that reported that aside from its well-known housing advocacy efforts, ACORN is active in voter mobilization efforts. ACORN is co-managing a $15.9 million campaign with the group Project Vote to register 1.2 million low-income Hispanics and African-Americans, the WSJ article says.

Republicans are crying foul, saying that funds from the $5 billion housing bill will indirectly end up in the coffers of groups like ACORN, which, they feel, have a clear Democratic tilt.

Incidentally, after the Capital One settlement and subsequent distribution of funds, ACORN’s political action committee later endorsed Hatch in his gubernatorial bid. I guess in legal terminology that would qualify as your basic quid pro quo.


  1. Don’t forget Lori Swanson’s role. She was the Minnesota Solicitor General at the time, and helped to orchestrate the settlement deal (overruling complaints from line attorneys in the division that the case could easily have settled for millions). ACORN endorsed her, too, and has continued to strongly support her. It’s not just Hatch who enjoys a little quid pro quo.

  2. MEMO

    TO: Enterprising Journalist (Dan Heilman? Mark Cohen? Eric Black?)
    FROM: A Minnesota Citizen
    RE: Hatch/Swanson

    Hatch/Swanson should be removed from power. Aside from reports from Minnesota Lawyer, Minnpost and, to some extent, MPR, the press has done a terrible disservice to the citizens of this state by failing to uncover the truth about their mismanagement of the state’s highest law office and their misdeeds. The Capitol One/ACORN scandal uncovered by the Legislative Auditor is but one small example of Hatch/Swanson’s misuse of the power of the office for their personal political gain.

    The press needs to ask and answer numerous questions, including the following:

    1. How many high-profile consumer cases, initiated with splashy press conferences and hapless victims as props, were eventually settled quietly and on the cheap?

    2. Whatever happened to the high-profile case against Messerli & Kramer?

    3. Are there cases in addition to Capitol One where a settlement resulted in a direct political benefit to Hatch/Swanson?

    4. As to the AOL Time Warner litigation, which was referred by Hatch to the Heins, Mills, Olson firm:

    a. How could the State Board of Investment have losses of $250,000,000, yet end up with a $3.3 million final settlement amount–less than what the former and current Solicitor General pocketed himself from the settlement? (He left the AGO, went to work for Heins, Mills, made $4 million on the settlement, then returned to the AGO and is now Solicitor General under Swanson. Star Tribune Feb. 18, 2008.)

    b. Was it sheer coincidence that shortly after making a fortune on the Time Warner case, Mr. Heins plunked $75,000 into a PAC (Minnesotans for Change) whose major donors, James Deal and Vance Opperman, are Hatch’s longtime financial backers?

    c. Why did Hatch refuse to talk to the press about the AOL Time Warner settlement (Star Tribune Feb. 18, 2008)? Does he have something to hide?

    d. The Star Tribune noted that the Solicitor General claimed to have left the AGO before going to Heins, Mills because his wife had been elected as a judge and he had a conflict of interest. Isn’t his wife still a judge? If so, what happened to the conflict of interest?

    5. Questions have been raised in the WCAL case about Hatch/Swanson nonfeasance in connection with the regulation of a nonprofit. Hatch’s aggressive enforcement actions against certain nonprofit health care organizations are well known (e.g., Allina/Medica, Blue Cross). Are there other nonprofits against which the AG should have taken action but failed to do so? And if so, why was no action taken?

    6. How did Lori Swanson get elected in the first place? Was she really the accidental politician she claims to be?

    a. Why did Entenza really drop out of the race?

    b. Why was Swanson able to beat Steve Kelley in the DFL primary?

    c. Was there a DFL sample ballot for the primary in which Swanson beat Kelley, and if not, why not?

    d. Why is the chair of the DFL party still co-sponsoring fundraisers at Hatch’s house for Swanson when she is a known union buster and the “L” in DFL purports to stand for “Labor”?

    7. Why have at least 59 lawyers resigned from the AGO since Swanson took office?

    8. Was it a coincidence that the only three AG staff members who have been fired since Swanson took office all happened to be involved in the union organizing effort?

    9. Kudos to Eric Black for taking on Hatch after Hatch lied about the reason Rep. Steve Simon left the AG’s office. How many other lies have gone unchallenged?

    10. If Dean Thomas Mengler had “no dog in the fight,” why did he participate in Swanson’s attempt to destroy the career of a young lawyer who heroically tried to make the public aware of Hatch/Swanson’s misconduct?

    11. Wasn’t Priscilla Lord Faris one of the people who showed up at the AGO to assist with the ridiculous vote that Swanson staged about the AG3 letter? Are Hatch/Swanson behind Priscilla’s candidacy in the US Senate race? If so, is Al Franken’s candidacy about to be deep-sixed? Should Al be watching out for anonymous faxes sent from Kinkos? Is Complex Litigation about to drop a CID on Franny???

  3. Does anyone know whether the rumor is true that the AG matter has been turned over to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation? If true, does anyone have the name of the contact person at Justice?

  4. Some more legal terminology to go along with quid pro quo: Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud, Money Laundering, Hobbs Act.

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