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  • « Busted by the Blade | Main | The bible-thumping general »

    March 12, 2007

    Cooking the books at HRC

    Posted by: Chris

    Joesolmoneseofficeblog The "nation's largest gay rights lobby" continues to stonewall its critics within the gay community rather than engage them. As noted here and here, Andrew Sullivan has been among those questioning the close relationship between HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton). The response from the thin-skinned leadership was swift, and when Sullivan dared to edit a lengthy letter penned in response, HRC tried to go over his head to his editors at the Atlantic.

    Sully had the last laugh, however, posting two intro graphs he had lopped off their letter that relied on the group's wildly exaggerated membership numbers to suggest HRC is somehow representative of gay people generally. I've been citing the same Blade story from May 2005, which caught HRC counting as "members" anyone who ever donated at least $1 to the group and hasn't been proven dead — even though the HRC web site claims "membership" requires $35 in annual dues. Andrew asks:

    So here's my first, open, transparent, simple question to HRC: The minimum membership fee on your website is $35. How many members paid $35 or more in annual dues in the last twelve months? You claim 650,000. What's the real number? Please provide documentation to prove it. Let's see how long it takes them to provide an honest answer. They've got my email address.

    Andrew expects an answer on Monday, but I would counsel him not to hold his breath. When we published that Blade report, Solmonese responded with a prickly letter to the editor that in retrospect set the tone for his tenure at HRC:

    Our inclusive membership practices are central to the defining values of our community.  From our inception in 1980, HRC has worked to be inclusive of all Americans who support GLBT equality.

    That’s why HRC makes no apologies about counting members who can’t afford regular donations as well as those who can.  And membership is about more than contributions.  It’s about sending e-mails to elected officials, volunteering time or lobbying members of Congress. 

    Still, in the interest of ending any confusion, of our more than 600,000 members, 343,328 made donations during the last two years and contribute to our annual $30 million budget. 

    Your newspaper may continue to engage in trivial, let alone inaccurate, weekly attacks on HRC.  In the meantime, our enemies are growing in membership and financial resources, taking aim at the entire GLBT community.

    Let's count the misinformation, shall we?

    1. "HRC makes no apologies about counting members who can’t afford regular donations as well as those who can": Why would HRC assume that a decision not to donate signals budgetary problems? There are any number reasons people wouldn't choose to renew, including a dissatisfaction with the group's direction or failure to achieve concrete victories.
    2. "Membership is about more than contributions.  It’s about sending e-mails to elected officials, volunteering time or lobbying members of Congress": But HRC has never counted membership that way, and has never used its membership as a truly effective lobbying force. Sending rote emails does little to influence policy, and HRC has always treated its members much more as checkbooks than soldiers in a movement.
    3. "Still, in the interest of ending any confusion, of our more than 600,000 members, 343,328 made donations during the last two years": Consider the confusion continuing, though at least we've gotten rid of almost 250,000 in fluff members. Why does Solmonese add up donations from two years instead of giving the current year's figure? Why count any "donations" when HRC's website makes clear that the annual membership fee is $35?

    It takes a certain gall to attack a newspaper report as "inaccurate" all while engaging in full-fledged disinformation yourself. But that's how things work inside the Beltway, and Solmonese is your prototypical political insider. He would have made a good political director for HRC, so long as a strong executive director kept his partisan leanings in check. 

    Instead, we have Karl Rove (or, rather, James Carville) running the largest organization in a civil rights movement.

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    1. Sullivan Launches Fresh Attack Against HRC from Queerty on Mar 12, 2007 1:40:01 PM

      The protracted (and increasingly ugly) struggle between Andrew Sullivan and Human Right Campaign continues. This fresh round of attacks started when Sullivan took on the allegedly "largest" gay rights organization's membership numbers, writing: The mi... [Read More]

    Comments

    1. Tim on Mar 12, 2007 7:33:16 PM:

      maybe they are just taking a page from Lenin's playbook and swelling the size of their 'movement' it's worked before. I still say they are after all that tasty corporate money.

    1. N. A. Cargo on Mar 12, 2007 7:35:17 PM:

      Awesome! When I am hit up for money from HRC and they say "Um, you aren't a member unless you give at least $35", that really means that the CARD costs $35. Fab. I am going to make my own using a Post-It(tm) note and some unicorn stickers, and pocket the difference.

    1. Dan on Mar 13, 2007 7:59:35 PM:

      What exactly does Sully consider to be adequate documentation for these numbers? Surely he doesn't expect the HRC to just hand over a comprehensive list - that would be a gross violation of privacy.

      To be honest, I fail to see what the big deal is here. Isn't it pretty common for politically-oriented groups to pad their numbers a little. Does anybody actually believe Daddy Dobson et al when they make grand pronouncements about their latest membership figures? I agree that greater transparency is preferable, and from what I can tell the HRC has taken steps to make achieve that transparency. Maybe they still have a ways to go, but it doesn't seem like enough to justify the howls of indignation coming from Sully.

      I dunno. The whole thing feels like it's more motivated by personal grudges than any real desire to improve the HRC.

    1. Craig Ranapia on Mar 14, 2007 7:38:32 AM:

      Dan:

      Excuse me? Did I really hear James Dobson mentioned as an ethical baseline in a discussion of a GLBT advocacy group? Much as I dislike Solmonese's performance, or HRC's long history of tactical and management blunders, that's harsh. :)

    1. Dan on Mar 15, 2007 11:42:28 AM:

      Fine, Craig, bad example. But I'm willing to bet that just about any politically oriented group, from FoF to NWF to AARP pads their numbers a little. Screaming bloody murder over a matter of numbers just seems pointless.

      Again, I'm not arguing that more transparency isn't a good thing. But I think people like Sullivan and, yes, Mr. Crain himself are making a mountain out of a molehill. And given the personal animosity that exists between these people, I've got to have some suspicions over what the true motivations are.

      I also think that Sullivan, at the very least, is full of himself if he honestly thinks he has a right to the level of information he's seeking. Verified #s? Leave that kind of thing to the folks at E&Y or PWC. Party registration of each board member? What is this, a political witchhunt?

    1. Craig Ranapia on Mar 15, 2007 4:36:02 PM:

      Dan:

      I'm sure Chris and Andrew can speak for themselves, but AFAIC all any advocacy group has to trade on in the end is their credibility. And if you're willing to flat out lie about 'trivia' like your membership on your press releases, website and fundraising pitches - and use that number when you're lobbying legislators as a sign of your clout - then I think it's fair to ask whether you should trust them at all.

      As for the alleged 'political witch-hunt', I also think advocacy groups that claim to be 'non-partisan' should be.

      Either that applies to everyone - HRC and FoTF alike - or nobody.

    1. Cyd on Mar 19, 2007 9:00:25 AM:

      I've sent emails through some of HRC's campaigns (of course, those emails were attacking HRC's position, not supporting it). So am I a member of HRC? God help me!

    1. RJP3 on Mar 19, 2007 3:55:30 PM:

      I love the misinformation 1 2 and 3 resonses. Chris Crane and his partner is crime Andrew Sullivan LOVE word games. Over educated wildly affluent gay men have always loved parlor word games. Honestly Chris Crane must not realize that his word games can hurt people. There would be NOTHING an organization the tilted left (which is the entire gay rights movement - not counting Crane's rich boy sacrifice buying up the gay press and profiting from escort and sex ads).

      The gay rights movement is a leftist movement that set people like Chris and Andrew free. Now they feel the need to attack those that make them feel weak and leftist. Sad sacks. Both of them.

      Never trust the RICH WHITE CONSERVATIVE MEN. NEVER.

    1. jojo on Aug 10, 2007 10:14:31 AM:

      um yeah... this is boring... and irrelevant. honestly, a pissing contest? Enough! okay boys your allllllright. Okay? Better? LETS MOVE ON!!! Forest for the Trees fellas Forest for the treets!

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