WASHINGTON - The Census Bureau on Friday severed its ties with ACORN, a community organization that has been hit with Republican accusations of voter-registration fraud.
"We do not come to this decision lightly," Census director Robert Groves wrote in a letter to ACORN, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
In splitting with ACORN, Groves sought to tamp down GOP concerns and negative publicity that the partnership will taint the 2010 head count.
"It is clear that ACORN's affiliation with the 2010 census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 census efforts," Groves wrote.
Stephen Buckner, a census spokesman, confirmed the letter, but declined additional comment.
ACORN spokesman Scott Levenson did not immediately return a request for comment.
In recent months, Republicans have become increasingly critical of the census' ties with ACORN, which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The group, which advocates for poor people, conducted a massive voter registration effort last year and became a target of conservatives when some employees were accused of submitting false registration forms with names such as "Mickey Mouse."
ACORN has said only a handful of employees submitted false registration forms and did so in a bid to boost their pay.
Partly citing ACORN's role, Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and David Vitter, R-La., earlier this year blocked a full confirmation vote of Groves for several weeks. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., also has been calling for a census boycott because of her concerns about whether the group would tamper with the high-stakes population count.
Up to now, the Census Bureau had defended ACORN's involvement, explaining it was one of 80,000 unpaid volunteer groups that the bureau hoped would be able to raise local awareness. But in his letter, Groves said it no longer had confidence that ACORN was effectively managing the partnership.
ACORN fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute. Fox News Channel broadcast excerpts from the video on Thursday. On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN's Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman's income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as "performance artist."
In a statement, ACORN Maryland board member Margaret Williams said the video was an attempt to smear ACORN, and that undercover teams attempted similar setups in at least three other ACORN offices. Williams said no tax returns were filed and no assistance was provided.