A tempest in a trash can is brewing in San Diego County, where ACORN is trying to recover tens of thousands of documents taken from its garbage by a Republican activist.
It's the latest skirmish in a war between ACORN, which stands for Community Organizations for Reform Now, and conservative critics who accuse it of corruption.
Derrick Roach, a private investigator who unsuccessfully ran for a state Assembly seat last year, said he took more than 20,000 documents from a caged trash area behind ACORN's office in National City on Oct. 9.
Some of the documents later posted on a Web site and displayed at a news conference Monday appeared to show driver's license and Social Security numbers of ACORN members or job applicants.
There also were immigration records, credit reports, tax returns, credit card statements and bank account numbers, Roach said Tuesday.
ACORN California Head Organizer Amy Schur said the confidential papers were carelessly included in the trash, and there was no intent to dump rather than shred them.
"We want to get our property back so that we can properly secure it," she said.
An ACORN employee filed a report on Monday with police in National City, a San Diego suburb that has a law forbidding scavenging of trash, Schur said.
She also contacted the county district attorney's office asking for help in retrieving documents that contain personal or confidential information.
"I believe that these documents were illegally obtained" and posted on the Internet, Schur said.
The district attorney's office is looking into the matter and is not sure if it will intervene, spokeswoman Gail Stewart said.
Roach said he was not concerned.
"They're not gonna get the documents back," he said.
Roach said he is shielded by a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said there was no privacy expectation for garbage. He also contacted the district attorney's office and sent them copies of some documents because he believes ACORN may have broken privacy laws by failing to shred those containing personal information.
Roach and GOP leaders have questioned why the material was dumped just days before investigators with the office of state Attorney General Jerry Brown were expected to visit the office.
Brown's office began investigating after employees at ACORN offices in San Bernardino and San Diego were caught on videotape appearing to advise a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute to lie about the woman's profession to get financial help for housing and about how to smuggle girls into the country.
Schur said the documents were thrown out to make room for a new phone bank, not to avoid scrutiny by state investigators. Most of the trash consisted of fliers and outdated voter lists, she said.
The attorney general's office has asked that Roach turn over all information that he believes relates to any violation of law or the ongoing investigation, spokesman Evan Westrup said.
ACORN has been a frequent target of Republican activists who contend it is illegally pushing a pro-Democratic political agenda using tax dollars. The group has lost government and corporate contracts and the support of President Barack Obama.
The organization, which has offices around the country, contends it is the victim of a coordinated smear campaign.
On the Net:
Web site with images of the trashed documents: http://biggovernment.com/