Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bachmann and ACORN: Debunked

Politifact does a nice job of debunking Michelle Bachmann’s silly claim that ACORN will be in charge of the census. Here’s what she said:

“Now ACORN has been named one of the national partners, which will be a recipient again of federal money,” Bachmann said. “And they will be in charge of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public. This is very concerning because the motherload of all data information will be from the census. And, of course, we think of the census as just counting how many people live in your home. Unfortunately, the census data has become very intricate, very personal (with) a lot of the questions that are asked.

“And I know for my family the only question that we will be answering is how many people are in our home. We won’t be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that.”


And here’s that pesky reality thing that she’s so averse to:

She is wildly wrong with her chraracterization of the Census Bureau’s partnership program. Yes, the bureau does partner with organizations to help recruit workers. To date, it has 30,000 such partners.

ACORN is one.

Partners agree “to promote the 2010 Census among their constituents.” As a partner, ACORN has agreed to spread the word among its people about the availability of temporary census jobs. The U.S. Census Bureau expects to hire 1.4 million people through the course of the 2010 census, the bulk of them to do the door-to-door questionnaires, so the bureau casts a wide net to get applicants, including through its partners. Partners don’t get paid, but they presumably benefit by getting the word out to members about jobs, and also by providing a public service emphasizing the importance of filling out the census.

According to Census Bureau information provided to Congress on June 1, 2009, “ACORN and other partner organizations simply promote the availability of temporary census jobs, but have no role in the terms or conditions of employment beyond promotion of the availability of temporary jobs. Applicants that are hired by the Census Bureau to work on the 2010 Census are required to go through a background check that includes an FBI name check and fingerprint check so that felons are not hired to work on the 2010 Census.”

Partners are also encouraged to donate testing space for the millions of people who will apply for the temporary census jobs. No payments are made for that. And lastly, partners are asked to promote full participation in the census among their members, through newsletters, e-mails, local meetings etc. Again, there’s no payment for that.

So let’s count the ways Bachmann is wrong:

ACORN will not be “in charge” of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public, as Bachmann said. The U.S. Census will be in charge of that. Some of the 1.4 million people who get Census-taking jobs may learn about the job through ACORN. Workers who apply to the Census through ACORN have no better shot at the job than those who apply through any of the 30,000 other partners. That’s it.

And despite Bachmann’s claim, ACORN gets no money for signing on as a partner.

Once again, she is making a scaremongering claim about ACORN with facts that are ridiculously wrong. So we have to set the meter on fire once again. She earns another Pants on Fire.

And in a separate article, they also debunk Bachmann’s claim that the constitution only requires her to give to census takers is the number of people in their home. You’ll be shocked to hear that she was wrong yet again:

Here’s what the Constitution actually says:

“Representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers…the actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”

So the Constitution itself does not contain any requirement, as Bachmann claims.

We draw your attention to the last clause, “in such a manner as they shall by law direct.” The “they” in that sentence refers to members of Congress. They write laws about the content of the census and require that people answer the questions.

Even the very first census in 1790 included more than just the question of how many people lived in the household. According to a Census Bureau spokeswoman, the 1790 census specifically asked about the number of free white males age 16 and over in order to assess the country’s military and industrial potential. That first census also asked for the race and gender of household residents, and whether they were free or enslaved.

Subsequent Census Acts expanded the number of questions exponentially.

According to Census spokeswoman Stacy Gimbel, these laws came under the authority of the “Necessary and Proper” clause of the Constitution:

“The Congress shall have the power . . . To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”

Congress’ use of the Census to ask questions well beyond just the number of people has been upheld several times by the Supreme Court, Gimbel said, citing several cases.

What’s more, a law passed by Congress requires people to answer “any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census” from the U.S. Census.

So what if you don’t?

The law says those who refuse to fill out the entirety of their census questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers could face fines of anywhere from $100 to $5,000. Honestly, Gimbel said, the U.S. Census doesn’t often enforce those rules.

“It is important to note that census takers are not seeking to prosecute people; our goal is to gather and return to the public quality information that assures equal representation and determines how billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money is spent by their government,” Gimbel said.

Bachmann’s claims that the Constitution only requires people to say how many people live in their household is “completely baseless,” Gimbel said.

Bachmann stuck to her misguided guns in a Fox interview on June 25, this time backing up her concerns about privacy by noting that in the 1940s the Census Bureau handed over information used to round up Japanese people and put them in internment camps.

“I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do,” Bachmann said, “but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps. I am just not comfortable with the way this census is being handled, with associating with ACORN, with the questions that are being asked, with Americans being compelled to give this information. How will this be cross-checked? Will it be held privately?”

Bachmann is right about how the Census was used to identify Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Since then, however, Congress has passed laws to specifically to protect the information it collects. Census employees take those privacy laws very seriously, she said. Employees found to have violated laws to protect people’s personal identity face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000.

Is Bachmann ever right about anything?