Jewish World Review Jan 13.2005/ 3 Shevat, 5765
Dissent within the ACLU
On July 31, The New York Times revealed in a front-page story that
executive director Anthony Romero had signed a certification that the
ACLU "does not knowingly employ individuals or contribute funds to
organizations found" on terrorism-related lists from the Justice, State
and Treasury departments. The ACLU had vigorously and publicly denounced
these error-prone lists.
Romero had signed the agreement without telling his board, let alone the
membership, in order to continue to receive an annual contribution from
the Combined Federal Campaign, a charity drive for federal employees and
military personnel which requires adherence to those lists.
When The New York Times broke that story, dissenting national board
members Michael Meyers and Wendy Kaminer protested vehemently and
publicly. As a result, many fellow members of the board treated them as
pariahs. Moreover, the top ACLU leadership successfully organized, as
punishment for his whistle-blowing, a drive to insure that Meyers would
not be re-elected to his other post on the ACLU's executive committee.
Immediately after the Times story detailing Romero's agreement to abide
by the watchlists, the executive director renounced the money from the
Combined Federal Campaign and led a lawsuit, joined by other public
interest organizations, against the requirement an action he should
have taken months before.
Then, on Dec. 18, another front-page story in The New York Times
reported that the ACLU "is using sophisticated technology to collect a
wide variety of information about its members and donors in a
fund-raising effort" notwithstanding "the organization's frequent
criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their
practice" of creating databanks, some eventually used for extensive
national security watchlists.
Unintimidated by previous criticisms from ACLU's leadership for her
whistle-blowing, Wendy Kaminer told the Times that "data-mining on
people without informing them (is) not illegal, but it is a violation of
our values. It is hypocrisy."
The admirably irrepressible Michael Meyers added: "If I give the ACLU
$20, I have not given them permission to investigate my partners, who
I'm married to, what they do, what my real estate holdings are, what my
wealth is, and who else I give my money to."
In a press release after this second story on his resourceful
activities, Romero insisted that all this assiduously gathered
data-mined information on members and donors is kept entirely
confidential. Other data-miners have made the same pledge, which often
turns out to be illusory to the harm of those listed.
Because of their continued dissent against what they consider to be
Romero's bypassing of ACLU's principles, Meyers and Kaminer are now
being referred to by some national ACLU board members as "whistlepunks."
Those board members appear to believe that since the ACLU performs
essential Bill of Rights work as indeed it does it should be
immune from internal criticism. This view of dissent from within is not
shared by the ACLU's staff (with whom I come in continual contact, and
An unintentionally amusing fallout from the ACLU leadership's disrespect
for the free speech of its internal heretics was a letter to Bill
Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, from Aryeh Neier, a
former executive director of the ACLU. With the endorsement of the ACLU
leadership, Neier upbraided the Times for placing the "minor dispute"
about databasing members and donors on its front page, and suggested the
newspaper "should seek an opportunity to make amends to the ACLU."
Keller told The New York Sun: "Maybe he meant that the Times should send
people over to the ACLU to give them back rubs, or that we should
remember them in our prayers. It would be offensive if (Neier) meant we
should publish flattering pieces about the ACLU ... I can't believe he
My wish for the new year is that ACLU executive director Anthony Romero
and ACLU president Nadine Strossen will become more worthy of the
organization's staff and members, who know as ACLU founder Roger
Baldwin once told me that "no civil liberties battle is ever entirely
won." And so, the ACLU's unending work should not be clouded by its
leadership's assumption of infallibility.
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