Precinct 333

Friday, January 21, 2005

ACLU To Punish Board Members For Exercising Free Speech?

Wendy Kaminer and Michael Meyers are ACLU Board members. They’ve been critical of the group’s executive directors and the board, which they feel does not provide proper oversight.

The response? An attempt to oust them from the Board for raising the issues.

In a Dec. 28 letter, Catherine S. Travis, a lawyer who sits on the board of the A.C.L.U. affiliate in Oregon, recommended that the board consider suspending or removing Mr. Meyers and Ms. Kaminer, saying that they had violated their fiduciary responsibilities by talking to reporters about matters she called confidential.

"Appropriate corrective action must be taken now to avoid further incidents that can only impede the organization's ability to meet the unprecedented challenges to civil liberties we face at this critical juncture," Ms. Travis wrote.

Ms. Kaminer and Mr. Meyers began pressing for more information about certain practices last summer. Their pressure led to the disclosure that the organization had signed an agreement that obliged it to check its employees' names against government terrorist watch lists, the type of lists it has decried. They also discovered that Mr. Romero advised the Ford Foundation, his former employer, to use the language of the USA Patriot Act, which the organization is fighting, in its grant agreements.

Most recently, the dissident board members have criticized Mr. Romero's decision to do more extensive research on A.C.L.U. donors and members without fully informing the board what data would be obtained by whom. They say they were concerned that the organization is engaging in the same kind of research that it has contested as a violation of privacy when done by government agencies and corporations.

"They are going after the critics instead of the criticism, and I think that's a gross embarrassment and shameful for the A.C.L.U.," Ms. Kaminer said in an interview.

Mr. Meyers said any effort to punish or silence them would be a violation of the organization's commitment to free speech and the right to dissent. "I am a person who urges them and constantly reminds them that they must practice what they preach," he said, "and I am, therefore, their worst nightmare."

In her letter, Ms. Travis expressed concern that the dissidents' criticism was hurting the organization.

Ms. Travis said in a telephone interview that she had not intended for her letter to be circulated beyond the board and therefore declined to comment on it. "I find this disturbing, this focus on internal governance issues when the organization is doing such important work in the protection of our civil liberties at a crucial junction in our history," she said. "I'd like to see the media looking at that."

Yeah, we wouldn’t want the public to examine ACLU practices and procedures, even though it is a not-for-profit group that is exempt from taxation. We wouldn’t want to risk having anyone look at its books, its policies and procedures, and its compliance with federal law. And we certainly wouldn’t want to see if it complies with the principles it claims to uphold and to which it seeks to hold even private organizations.

The ACLU is one of the most powerful groups in America. If it ousts dissenting board members, it is also among the most hypocritical.


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