Thursday, December 08, 2005

A House Divided

There's an article in the NY Times regarding internal squabbles at the ACLU. Apparently the jackals are fighting for control of the pack and how the hunt will be conducted. One of the chief bones of contention is the "leadership" style of Anthony Romero. Some of it has to do with the privacy issue I wrote about last week. In that post, I pointed out that last year Romero registered the ACLU for a federal charity drive that required it to certify that it would not knowingly employ people whose names were on government terrorism watch lists.

The day after The New York Times exposed its participation, the organization withdrew from the charity drive and, of course, later filed a lawsuit to contest the watch list requirement.

The data collection practices were implemented without the ACLU board's approval or knowledge, and were in violation of the ACLU's own privacy policy.

The latest article by the Times says:

"Since Mr. Romero stepped into the job just four days before the Sept. 11 attacks, the A.C.L.U. has been transformed. Under his watch, membership and revenues have risen sharply. The use of data to maximize contributions has become more sophisticated. Big donors have been wooed and won. At the group's first membership conference in Washington in 2003, 1,500 members descended on Congressional offices.

But Mr. Romero has also become a lightning rod, with a band of vociferous internal critics saying that civil liberties are not his top concern. They have seized on his failure to inform the board about a settlement with the New York attorney general over privacy breaches on its Web site and his signing of a government fund-raising agreement that the organization later renounced. In both cases, they say, Mr. Romero was not entirely forthcoming even after those controversies came to light.

There have been heated boardroom exchanges and an unusual number of resignations from the board. Dissidents say Mr. Romero is ignoring the A.C.L.U.'s traditions, of encouraging dissent; threatening its core principles, like free speech, and too often acting without the full knowledge and support of the board, which is supposed to guide him.

"I think there is an ideological difference among board members having to do with pure principle versus the pragmatism of money," Ms. Esman said, echoing current and past board members.

The internal friction has roiled the organization, which is unaccustomed to scrutiny of its operations, and prompted members of the executive committee to try to limit access to recordings of board meetings.

Several critics of Mr. Romero's leadership have left the board. Michael Meyers, his fiercest opponent, was voted off the board in September after 24 years of membership."

Michael Meyers had learned about the new research by accident during a committee meeting. He objected to the practices, and the next day the privacy policy on the group's Web site was changed. "They took out all the language that would show that they were violating their own policy," Meyers said. "In doing so, they sanctified their procedure while still keeping it secret."

It sounds like Romero and friends are doing a good job of stifling dissent and eliminating anyone with a different viewpoint from the organization. While membership and revenues may be up right now, the sacrifice of principle for money will eventually take its toll, consuming this beast from the inside out.

Merry Christmas ACLU!

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