March 12, 2007
Cooking the books at HRC
Posted by: Chris
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?
- "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.
- "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.
- "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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