For the first time in its history, the A.C.L.U. is taking an active role in elections. The group has plans to spend more than twenty-five million dollars on races and ballot initiatives by Election Day, in November. Anthony Romero, the group’s executive director, told me, “It used to be that, when I had a referendum I really cared about, I could spend fifty thousand dollars.”
That's what happens when you're no longer a civil rights group, but a way for San Francisco tech tycoons to funnel money to their favorite candidates.
In 2013, during the comparative quiet of the late Obama years, Romero had commissioned a study of how the National Rifle Association—another organization built around a specific view of a section of the Bill of Rights—has managed to operate so effectively as a public-advocacy organization. “The big takeaway for me from that study was that they were able to talk about their work not in legalistic policy terms,” Romero said. “On their Web site you won’t find anything about the Second Amendment. It’s all about gun culture.”
Fact check: The ACLU's research is as sloppy as its principles.
The NRA mentions it on its front page. And all over its site. "Together with our more than five million members, we're proud defenders of history's patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment," is how its mission statement reads. Under About the NRA, it declares, "In response to repeated attacks on the Second Amendment rights, NRA formed the Legislative Affairs Division in 1934. "
It's not subtle stuff.
Romero thought that the A.C.L.U. might do something similar—moving out from the courtrooms and into the work of grassroots mobilization, of policy issues and campaigns. What he wanted, he said, was “to give people a real opportunity to be protagonists.”
There are a thousand groups doing grassroots. The ACLU is one of the few to do civil rights across the board.
As Alan Dershowitz points out, this is the end of the ACLU.
In those days, the board consisted of individuals who were deeply committed to core civil liberties, especially freedom of speech, opposition to prosecutorial overreach and political equality. Its board members included Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, right wingers and left wingers, all of whom supported neutral civil liberties. The key test in those days was what I have come to call "the shoe on the other foot" test: Would you vote the same way if the shoe were on the other foot, that is, if the party labels were switched?
Today, the ACLU wears only one shoe, and it is on its left foot. Its color is blue. The only dispute is whether it supports the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or its more centrist wing. There is little doubt that most board members today support the progressive wing, though some think that even that wing is not sufficiently left. There is no longer any room in the ACLU for true conservatives who are deeply committed to neutral civil liberties. The litmus test is support for hard-left policies.
To be sure, the ACLU will still occasionally take a high profile case involving a Nazi or Klan member who has been denied freedom of speech, though there are now some on the board who would oppose supporting such right-wing extremists. But the core mission of the ACLU - and its financial priority - is to promote its left-wing agenda in litigation, in public commentary and, now, in elections. If you want to know the reason for this shift, just follow the money. ACLU contributors, including some of its most generous contributors, are strong anti-Trump zealots who believe that the end (getting rid of Trump) justifies any means (including denying Trump and his associates core civil liberties and due process).
The ACLU wants to be Planned Parenthood. It has no interest in abstract ideas, but in being one of the big and wealthy organizational players.