ACORN 8 board refuses to fall far from tarnished group’s name

July 5, 2010

By Kevin Mooney, The Washington Times

Even as it considered dropping its tarnished name last year, ACORN threatened a whistleblower group composed of former board members with a trademark lawsuit.

Community activists who had held high-ranking ACORN positions have continued, however, to operate under the banner of ACORN 8, which is named for the eight board members who were blocked from investigating an embezzlement scandal.

The whistleblower group remains committed to the ACORN name and the community initiatives outlined in the organization’s mission statement, even as national and state affiliates rebrand themselves.

But it was just more than a year ago that the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now issued an ultimatum demanding that the whistleblower group “cease and desist” in its use of the ACORN name in a letter dated June 11, 2009.

The letter, which has not been previously disclosed, was recently obtained by The Washington Times.

“It is a violation of federal and state law for you to use the ACORN name and mark without the written permission of ACORN,” Arthur Schwartz, the ACORN attorney, wrote in his letter addressed to former board members Karen Inman and Marcel Reid. “Should you continue to do so, you will be liable for monetary damages and injunctive relief.”

The letter set a compliance deadline of June 30, 2009, that was ignored and never enforced. Nevertheless, the fact that ACORN was already working to disassociate itself from its damaged brand name suggests that the letter’s stated ultimatum was merely an act of intimidation aimed at silencing whistleblowers.

Ms. Reid, Ms. Inman and other whistleblowers suspected at that time that ACORN executives were in the early stages of rebranding and remarketing the organization. The announcement last summer that ACORN International had changed its name to Community Organizations International was viewed as a prelude to a more expansive reorganization effort.

The announcement was made by Wade Rathke, the ACORN founder who was forced out after it was revealed that his brother Dale Rathke had embezzled funds while serving as chief financial officer.

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