SenatorÂ John McCainÂ’s presidential campaign on Friday stepped up its efforts to tie SenatorÂ Barack ObamaÂ to a community organizing group that has been accused of involvement in problematic voter registrations in several hotly contested states, including Colorado, Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina.
The group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, has long been a favorite target of conservatives. It made news this year when it was revealed that a brother of AcornÂ’s founder had embezzled almost $1 million from the organization but that Acorn had failed to disclose the theft for eight years.
Â“Barack Obama has made very inconsistent remarks about what his relationship with this organization is,Â”Â Rick Davis, Mr. McCainÂ’s campaign manager, said in a conference call.
Mr. Davis said Mr. Obama had worked as AcornÂ’s lawyer and conducted training events for its leaders. He also noted a payment the Obama campaign made in February to an Acorn affiliate, Citizens Services Inc.
While Mr. Obama did represent Acorn in a lawsuit in 1995, Acorn was on the same side as the Justice Department. The training events involved two hours of work. And the payment to the Acorn affiliate was reported in campaign filings, although they had to be revised because of an error.
The Obama campaign described the accusations as a spurious effort to tie Mr. Obama to potentially fraudulent voter registrations.
Â“Barack Obama strongly condemns voter registration fraud or any other breach of election law by any party or group,Â” Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement.
Acorn, whose political action committee has endorsed Mr. Obama, has said that the investigations into its voter registration work are politically motivated.
Â“Rumors of AcornÂ’s voter fraud have been greatly exaggerated and to a large extent manufactured,Â” Bertha Lewis, the organizationÂ’s interim chief organizer, or chief executive, said Monday in a conference call to announce that the organization had registered 1.3 million people to vote.
Ms. Lewis said it was Acorn itself that informed state officials about some questionable registrations collected by its employees that are now under investigation. Acorn said it had terminated the workers involved.
In 1995, Mr. Obama was on a team of lawyers that represented Acorn in a lawsuit to compel Illinois to comply with federal laws intended to enhance access to the polls. The team also represented Equip for Equality, a group that promotes the rights of the disabled, and four individuals.
Mr. Davis said that as their lawyer, Mr. Obama had Â“an intimate relationshipÂ” with Acorn Â“against the State of Illinois and the federal government.Â”
In fact, the Justice Department was on the same side as Acorn in the lawsuit, as were other organizations, including theÂ League of Women Voters. Those plaintiffs won the case.
Mr. Davis urged reporters to question Mr. Obama about training sessions he had done for Acorn. Â“What were you teaching them?Â” Mr. Davis asked. Â“Were you teaching them how to evade the law?Â”
Lewis Goldberg, a spokesman for Acorn, said Mr. Obama conducted two leadership training sessions of roughly an hour each for AcornÂ’s Chicago affiliate over a three-year period in the late 1990s. He was not paid for that work, Mr. Goldberg said.
Even before FridayÂ’s conference call, Republicans had made much of an $832,598 payment made in February by the Obama campaign to Citizens Services Inc., a consulting firm affiliated with Acorn.
Â“This organization is not just related to but deeply ingrained in the Acorn organization, a front group for Acorn,Â” Mr. Davis said.
The Obama campaign initially reported that the payment was for Â“staging, sound, lightingÂ” and other advance work when it reported its expenditures with theÂ Federal Election Commission. It filed amended reports in August and September to reflect that those payments were for get-out-the-vote efforts.
Mr. Davis contended that the original filing was an effort to Â“hide the factÂ” that money was paid to Acorn. But F.E.C. officials have said such amended filings are common.
Citizens Services typically contracts with Acorn and its affiliates for work like that done for the Obama campaign. Mr. Goldberg, the Acorn spokesman, said that less than $80,000 of the Obama campaignÂ’s payment to Citizens Services went to Acorn. Jeff Robinson, executive vice president of Citizens Services, did not return a call inquiring how the rest of the money was spent.
In 1992, Mr. Obama was personally involved in voter registration efforts when he served as director of Project Vote in Chicago, helping to register 150,000 voters on the South Side. His success was widely written about at the time and credited with helping to elect SenatorÂ Carol Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman in the Senate.
Mr. LaBolt emphasized that Project Vote and Acorn were not as intertwined at that time as they are today, when a significant part of Project VoteÂ’s revenues flow to Acorn and various of its affiliates as payment for services.
But according to Sam Graham-Felsen, who blogs on the Obama campaignÂ’s Web site, Mr. Obama himself linked his 1992 work to Acorn in a meeting with AcornÂ’s leaders in November.
Â“Even before I was an elected official, when I ran Project Vote voter registration drives in Illinois, Acorn was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work,Â” Mr. Obama said, according to a post Mr. Graham-Felsen made in February.