ACORN Head Rails Against Modern-Day "McCarthyism"

Bertha Lewis, the chief executive of embattled community group ACORN, told reporters at the National Press Club today that her critics are engaged in "modern-day ACORN McCarthyism" born in part from the group's history of "going after the rich and the powerful," the New York Times reports.

While defiant, Lewis did acknowledge that her group had its problems: She said videos showing ACORN employees advising conservative activists posing as a pimp and prostitute "made my stomach turn," according to CNN. "It just made you sick," she added. The group has appointed an investigator to examine why the behavior took place.

But Lewis refused to make apologies for her 40-year-old organization, which she said wasn't going anywhere. Congress, she said, can't destroy the group by withholding federal funding: "We didn't have government funding for years," she said to illustrate that point, according to Politico. "We may not have government funding in the future."

ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been receiving about $2.5 million to $3 million each year from the federal government, Lewis said – only about 10 percent of its annual budget. The rest of its funding comes from membership dues and private donors.

The group had sometimes "aided and abetted our attackers," she added, pointing to mismanagement before her tenure began as well as the recent scandal. Lewis also defended the decision to sue the filmmakers behind the scandal for recording ACORN employees without permission, as well Andrew Breitbart, who posted the videos on his Web site.

"It is illegal…to record someone in the state of Maryland without their permission," she said. "Just because we were embarrassed by these highly edited tapes, which don't tell the whole story again, and hopefully that will come out, doesn't mean that these people didn't break the law in order to embarrass and attack the organization."

ACORN has faced a raft of negative headlines since the videos came out: The group has seen the Internal Revenue Service, Bank of America and the U.S. Census Bureau cut ties with it, faced investigations into its activities announced by Justice and Treasury departments, watched as Congress has cut its funding, and, most recently, faced down an investigation from Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell into whether the brother of the group's founder had embezzled $4 million more than the group had originally claimed.

The group also took criticism from conservatives during the 2008 election campaign over charges of voter registration fraud. Lewis said today the group had gone out of its way to turn in those responsible for that fraud.

"We were punished for following the law and doing the right thing, and that part of the story was never told. And so nine months later it finally began to resonate with folks that we had not had one individual who voted fraudulently in the presidential election because of an ACORN registration -- not one Mickey Mouse, not one Donald Duck, not one New York Jet, Giant or any other fraudulent person," she said.