Thursday, May 25, 2006

ACLU leader keeps "thick files" on his own board members!

From Wednesday's New York Times:

"The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing new standards that would discourage its board members from publicly criticizing the organization's policies and internal administration.

"'Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement,' the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.

"'Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising,' the proposals state."

The American Civil Liberties Union is going to gag its own board members? Huh?

So the ACLU will go to court to defend the rights of American Nazis who want to march, but will seek to gag its own board members who might disagree with the rest of the organization's board on a matter of policy?

Why would the ACLU want to muzzle dissent, even among its own board members? Doesn't the ACLU pride itself on its reputation for being willing to stand up for the right to free expression, no matter how objectionable?

Here's where it gets interesting. As one reads further into the piece, one encounters this little tidbit:

"When the committee was formed last year, its mission was to set standards on when board members could be suspended or ousted.

"The board had just rejected a proposal to remove Ms. [Wendy] Kaminer and Michael Meyers, another board member, because the two had publicly criticized [ACLU Executive Director Anthony D.] Romero and the board for decisions that they contended violated A.C.L.U. principles and policies, including signing a grant agreement requiring the group to check its employees against government terrorist watch lists — a position it later reversed — and the use of sophisticated data-mining techniques to recruit members.

"Mr. Meyers lost his bid for re-election to the board last year, but Ms. Kaminer has continued to speak out. Last month, she was quoted in The New York Sun as criticizing the group's endorsement of legislation to regulate advertising done by counseling centers run by anti-abortion groups. The bill would prohibit such centers from running advertisements suggesting that they provide abortion services when they actually try to persuade women to continue their pregnancies."

So the first thing we learn here is that there's an internal power struggle going on, and the current Executive Director of the ACLU, one Anthony D. Romero, is involved in a spitting match with one of his board members -- Wendy Kaminer, a writer and social critic whose civil libertarian credentials are not suspect (she's a former lawyer for the New York Legal Aid Society, and formerly wrote for The American Prospect and served as a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly, neither of which are known for harboring troglodytes).

Ms. Kaminer's first offense cited in the article is that she publicly disagreed with a decision by Mr. Romero and the rest of the ACLU board to agree to check its employees against government terrorist watch lists as a condition of receiving a grant. She also objected to the organization's use of data-mining techniques to help build its membership. Seems to me she's taking a somewhat hardline civil libertarian position in that dispute, while Mr. Romero and the rest of her compatriots appear to be willing to fudge their principles in pursuit of a larger -- and presumably more important -- goal: the greater political power that a larger budget and a larger membership list will bring it.

Her next offense, it seems, is that she more recently disagreed with Mr. Romero et. al. on whether or not the ACLU should endorse legislation regulating advertising -- in this particular case, advertising conducted by abortion counseling centers run by pro-life groups. For a consistent and principled civil libertarian, what matters isn't the content of the speech being regulated, it's the regulation itself that's offensive. So, again, it appears to an outside observer as if it's Ms. Kaminer who's on the consistent civil libertarian side, and Mr. Romero and the rest of her compatriots who are willing to fudge their principles in pursuit of a larger -- and presumably more important -- legislative/political goal: making sure that women who seek abortions don't fall for "fraudulent" advertising undertaken by pro-life abortion counseling centers.

But wait, there's more. Later in the article, we learn that:

"The uproar their comments produced at the April board meeting illustrates how contentious the issue of directors' publicly airing dissent with policies and procedures has become at the organization.

"Some directors lamented that Ms. Kaminer and Mr. Brittain had shared their disagreement with the paper, and Mr. Romero angrily denounced Ms. Kaminer. 'I got frustrated and lost my temper,' he said yesterday. 'In retrospect, that was a mistake.'

"At the meeting, Mr. Romero did not denounce Mr. Brittain. But board members said he had demanded that Ms. Steiner step outside the meeting room, where he chastised her for the look on her face when he was criticizing Ms. Kaminer.

"'Anthony went on to say that because I was Wendy's "friend" and did not appear ready to join him in "getting rid of her," (by, among other things, lobbying her affiliate to remove her as its representative) I was no better than she was, and then stormed off angrily,' Ms. Steiner wrote in an e-mail message to the board.

"Later in the meeting, Mr. Romero asked another board member, David F. Kennison, to step outside after Mr. Kennison apologized for failing to object to Mr. Romero's attack on Ms. Kaminer.

"Mr. Kennison reported in an e-mail message that Mr. Romero 'told me that he would "never" apologize to the target of his outburst and that his evaluation of her performance as a member of this board was justified by information he had been accumulating in a "thick file on her."'

"When Mr. Kennison asked whether Mr. Romero intended to start such a file on him, 'he asked me what made me think that he didn't already have a file on me,' Mr. Kennison wrote."




The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union -- a man who serves at the pleasure of the ACLU Board of Directors -- is a) keeping "thick file[s]" on his own board members, and b) THREATENING his board members with them?

This, from the organization that just yesterday proudly launched a national public affairs campaign against the National Security Agency's data-mining program?

Crap. I buried the lead.


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