The American Institute for Social Justice (AISJ) was one of four national affiliates of the community organization ACORN. (The other three were the ACORN Housing Corporation, the ACORN Institute, and Project Vote.) Founded in 1972 as the Arkansas Institute for Social Justice (the name change took place in the late 1990s), AISJ described itself as a “provider of training and technical assistance in organizing principles and methods, and a center for research and public policy development on issues of concern to low and moderate income people.” Its goal was to produce skilled community organizers who could “transform poor communities” by agitating for increased government spending on city services, drug interdiction, crime prevention, housing, public-sector jobs, access to healthcare, and public schools. AISJ trainings included on-site consultations, small- and large-group sessions, and one-day or weekend seminars. The tactics taught at these forums were modeled on the organizing blueprint developed by the late Saul Alinsky.
Between 1993 and 2005, AISJ collected $32,497,575 in contributions from individuals and foundations nationwide. The organization’s leading donors included the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
AISJ also received numerous large grants from the federal government, including $17,665 in 2000; $100,000 in 2001; $170,000 in 2002; $70,000 in 2003; $132,000 in 2004; $107,488 in 2005; and $53,870 in 2006.
AISJ, ACORN, and ACORN’s other affiliates and front groups routinely funneled large sums of money to and from one another’s coffers. Between 2000 and 2008, for instance, AISJ paid at least $8,563,303 to ACORN (including a $4,952,288 grant in 2006), plus another $258,593 to ACORN Associates Inc. and $362,464 to Citizens’ Services, Incorporated (also an ACORN affiliate). Conversely, AISJ was on the receiving end of nearly $4 million from the ACORN Housing Corporation between 2000 and 2006. Matthew Vadum, a senior editor with the Capital Research Center, wrote in 2010:
“The money flowing to AISJ from ACORN Housing should be a huge red flag for investigators because almost all the federal money that the ACORN network receives goes into its housing affiliate. So it’s entirely possible that when money was being transferred to the national ACORN organization from AISJ, taxpayer money designated for nonpartisan purposes might have been used for blatantly partisan purposes. These transfers are extremely suspicious. This is the type of financial activity that we see with organized crime and it should be investigated.”
The ACORN-AISJ alliance was also in evidence in 2002, when the latter made a $9,637 loan to another ACORN affiliate, SEIU Local 100, based at 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans, the official address of many ACORN allies and front groups.
In collaboration with the ACORN Institute, AISJ published Social Policy magazine, whose content was steeped in leftist political and social values. In a 2003 article, this periodical effusively praised then-state senator Barack Obama, who was a former ACORN employee, as an “old frien[d]” who had been “a very good organizer” when ACORN and AISJ first “noticed” him during his days “organizing on the far south side of the city with the Developing Communities Project.” “Since then,” said the Social Policy piece, “we have invited Obama to our leadership training sessions to run the session on power every year, and, as a result, many of our newly developing leaders got to know him before he ever ran for office. Thus, it was natural for many of us [in AISJ and ACORN] to be active volunteers in his first campaign for State Senate and then his failed bid for U.S. Congress in 1996….”
AISJ collapsed after ACORN filed for bankruptcy in 2010.