Formally established on January 12, 2010, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) is the new name for the California chapter of ACORN. After massive scandals in 2008 and 2009, ACORN’s California chapter (which had 37,000 dues-paying members, making it the largest affiliate in the ACORN network) elected to change its name in an effort to distance itself from what it called “a campaign of lies, media distortions and incessant attacks” that had been directed against the parent group. A key consideration in this decision was California ACORN’s desire to keep tax dollars and foundation grants flowing into its coffers.
ACCE characterizes itself as “an independent state-wide organization with no legal, financial or structural ties to ACORN.” But ACCE’s Executive Director is Amy Schur, who served more than 20 years as a loyal ACORN employee. During that time, Schur helped lead ACORN’s national campaigns; she also participated in an eight-year-long coverup of a nearly $1 million embezzlement by ACORN employee Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN co-founder Wade Rathke.
Journalist Matthew Vadum explains how ACORN commonly uses front groups like ACCE as escape hatches through which it seeks to evade public scrutiny and accountability for its acts of malfeasance:
“ACORN plays a game of corporate musical chairs when it gets into trouble. When an ACORN affiliate does something admirable, ACORN emphasizes the ties it has to that affiliate. When an affiliate does something infamous, ACORN plays dumb and its byzantine organizational structure allows it to claim plausible deniability. Such chicanery is standard operating procedure at ACORN, according to ACORN lawyer Elizabeth Kingsley. In an internal legal memo in 2008 Kingsley described the hoops that ACORN jumps through to create the façade that its affiliates are independent of each other.”
ACCE describes itself as “a non-profit community organization that helps California citizens organize and take action to promote change that benefits social, economic, and racial justice.”
ACCE claims that in 2016 it ran five programs that registered almost 10,000 Californians to vote.
As of 2017, ACCE claimed to have some 14,000 members. It also had offices in Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Diego.
In 2017, ACCE joined the League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause, and the National Council of La Raza in an effort to compel the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to incorporate voter registration material into the forms needed to apply for or renew a driver’s license or state identification card, or to submit a change of address. These groups claimed that the DMV was violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), popularly called “Motor-Voter,” by asking the more than one million California residents who renewed their licenses by mail every year to fill out separate voter-registration forms. “Since we first alerted DMV to these problems, multiple local, state, and federal elections have passed, including the 2016 presidential election,” said ACCE Executive Director Christina Livingston. “Enough is enough. It’s time for California to make registration easier for every voter as the law requires and to get it done before another election passes us by.” The plaintiff groups were represented by the ACLU of Northern California, Demos, and the law firm of Morrison and Foerster.