During a more than hour-and-a-half interview Sept. 11 for Frontiers magazine with Equality California Board President Clarissa Filgioun and EQCA Institute Board President Cary Davidson about the health of the statewide LGBT lobbying group and their search for a new executive director, it was quite clear that the board presidents felt uncomfortable discussing former ED Geoff Kors, former board members and the departed staff who built EQCA into a “model” LGBT lobbying organization. Kors is now with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) where he is working collaboratively with Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein on a New Jersey version of the just-signed and challenged California law that bans licensed therapists from practicing so-called “reparative therapy” on minors.
Repeatedly during the interview, Davidson and Filgioun shifted in their seats with even the mention of Kors’ name and seemed adamant that they would not adhere to the same model of organizational governance that allowed Kors as ED to have power and make quick decisions.
“I think we’ve learned some lessons during that time,” Davidson said. “I think in some instances, the board ceded too much authority to Jim [Carroll, second in command] and Geoff and we relied on them too much. And now we want to be not involved in the day-to-day operations – but we want to be aware of what is going on.”
Disparaging comments like that – as if Kors and Carroll did not apprise the board of their actions – have not sat well with several former EQCA board members and presidents concerned about the accurate history of the organization.
Geoff and Jim built and ran a top-flight organization with amazing accomplishments. As an educator, I would NOT get involved in a nonprofit or for-profit organization that did not achieve tangible results. Because EQCA was a leading force in California for equality for ALL, I not only became a board member for 5 years (on the Executive Committee) but also President of the Board of Directors for Equality California Institute for two years. I had so much faith in the organization that I personally donated a quarter of a million dollars. One does not donate that level of money if there is any hint of lack of transparency by any of its leaders.
Both Geoff and Jim provided us with so much information including monthly detailed financials and 30-plus page monthly reports. We had weekly calls where they answered every imaginable question and regularly asked board members, especially the Executive Committee board members for input and advice. Cary [Davidson] and I spoke to them many times each week, sometimes many times a day. It got to a point where I literally had to calendar on my iphone the many phone calls on a daily basis. I shared this leadership with [West Hollywood City Councilmember and EQCA board member] John Duran during the first year of being president of EQCAI and shared the second year with Cary.
It is NOT credible to say the board or board leadership lacked information. That is simply NOT true.
Diane Abbitt, board president from 2003-2005, said:
“Geoff and Jim provided an abundance of information to the officers and Board of Directors. The Board felt well informed and confident in their ability to raise and wisely spend the money. Their reports supported the Board’s vote of confidence.
It is shameful that the current leadership would disparage and in any way discredit those who built EQCA into the most successful PAC in the country and who passed over 70 pieces of legislation in nine short years that afford more protections for the California LGBT community than afforded in any other state.”
But these board presidents have remained quiet until an accidental email Monday night prompted an exchange in which Filgioun disparaged Abbitt and former EQCA Development Director Eric Harrison by name in a group email that included Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson and me. Abbitt has been an LGBT and HIV/AIDS strategist and prodigious fundraiser since she was the first female board co-chair of MECLA in the late 1970s, co-founder of APLA and ANGLE, an EQCA board president and several years as head of EQCA’s PAC. A lawyer and businesswoman, Abbitt had been quiet even as she privately despaired about what was happening to the organization she loved under the board leadership of Davidson and Filgioun.
But then came the last straw. Abbitt was sending out a batch of emails promoting the Sunday, Oct 7 Freedom to Marry event to raise money to help fight marriage campaigns in four states with ballot initiatives this November. Marriage matters to Abbitt, who is engaged to her longtime life and business partner, Bernadette Abbruzze. Her latest missive was about a new poll in Maine showing the possibility of the LGBT community’s first success at the ballot:
“Yesterday I sent you the below e mail. Today I ask that you look at the below polling in Maine. It is because of the hard work of our community, especially the money contributed by Freedom to Marry, that the poll numbers look so good!!! But, we can’t stop now! Please come to this Sunday’s event and if you can’t be there in person, contribute at www.freedomtomarry.org/partyLA.
Maine, USA: New Poll Shows Marriage Equality Ahead 57% to 36% (Think Progress)
A new poll by Critical Insights finds that Maine’s marriage equality referendum is set to pass, with 57 percent approval and only 36 percent rejection. http://purpleunions.com/blog/2012/10/maine-usa-new-poll-shows-marriage-equality-ahead-57-to-36.html.”
The email went to a list of friends and contacts. But in what was probably an accident, it appears Filgioun hit “reply” to Abbitt with a message that seems intended only for Davidson:
“From: Clarissa Filgioun (email deleted)
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2012 5:46 PM
To: Diane Abbitt
Cc: Cary Davidson (sic, email deleted)
Subject: RE: SEE NEW POLL BELOW! MAKE A DIFFERENCE! NEXT SUNDAY, Oct 7th , 4 to 6:30 PM
She’s about as annoying as Eric Harrison.”
Harrison is now the ED with Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing after serving as the Interim ED for California marriage equality group Love Honor Cherish. Abbitt, Harrison, Kors, Carroll, and Soto are all co-hosting Freedom to Marry events to raise money for the four ballot initiatives. Abbitt responded:
“Thanks for the compliment. It’s unfortunate that you, President of Equality California, thinks people who raise money for freedom to marry in other states are annoying especially given how much money other states raised during Prop 8 to help us. So disappointing, Clarissa.”(Eric Harrison, rt, with Diane Abbitt and NoH8 campaign photographer Adam Bouska on Feb. 17, 2012 in WeHo celebrating the 9th Circuit ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Harrison was really ticked off. He responded with some information that has heretofore been unknown or kept secret – including information about 300,000 Facebook contacts that could have proven useful during the lobbying effort on SB 1172, the bill to ban conversion therapy as psychological child abuse just signed into law by Gov. Brown. Harrison wrote:
“Thank you, Diane.
I’m truly saddened by Clarissa’s remark. I worked tirelessly for EQCA for over 2 years to the very finish and the true leaders on this e-mail can attest to that. As a board member of Love Honor Cherish, we are supporting Freedom to Marry because it is the right thing to do. The only thing that I can think of that Clarissa found annoying was my persistence for her to pay on her $5,000 pledge when she stood up in the Beverly Hilton’s ballroom last year. Given our financial challenges at EQCA and my role as development director, it was logical for me to be “annoying” to ensure that a board president fulfilled her commitment, as I laid off my entire department.
My personal belief is that every dollar remaining in EQCA’s Issues Pac should be deployed to support these marriage initiatives. The money was raised for marriage and should be used as it was intended. What an amazing victory it would be to sweep all four states with EQCA’s assistance! This Facebook page (managed by EQCA) has nearly 300k supporters and yet, it has not been updated since June of 2011: https://www.facebook.com/noonproposition8. At a minimum, EQCA should ignite it to support these marriage battles or give the admin rights to an organization who will not let it go to waste.
And Diane, you are very right. The largest donors to Prop 8 substantially came from out of state. We need to do whatever we can to return the favor and as we say at Love Honor Cherish, “It’s Time!”
So disappointing, Clarissa and yet, not surprising to anyone.”
Be advised: I was visibly cc-ed in all these email exchanges with NO request for privacy, confidentiality or having the exchanges be off the record – something I pointed out to all those on the list before writing this story.
I’ve asked Filgioun whether she has paid that $5,000 pledge from last year’s gala. It’s actually a moment I remember because the event organizers (for Roland Palencia’s first and only starring role as EQCA ED) asked the mother and brother of the late suicide victim Sean Walsh to do the fundraising pitch. After they spoke, there was silence until Filgioun jumped up with her pledge. As I remember it, a long, painfully awkward silence followed – prompting them to lower the next targeted amount. They did not seem to have the usual planted pledge-givers in the audience – hence effectively humiliating the Walsh family who had just offered up their grief for the bidding.
Filgioun has not yet replied to my question about the $5,000 pledge.(Former EQCA ED Geoff Kors honored by Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, with award presented by former EQCA COO Jim Carroll. Photo by Karen Ocamb)
I also asked about those 300,000 supporters on Facebook. That’s actually a bit more dicey for the board since the list generated by that page may not be exclusive to EQCA but may have to be shared with NCLR and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, according to an agreement they all signed during the No on Prop 8 battle. Additionally, my reading of the agreement suggests that while EQCA is designated as the “custodian” of “data” – including volunteer lists, donor lists, direct mail lists, voter files, etc, – the INTENT was to share such information when it can be useful to LGBT-related battles (See the full agreement below):
“IV. Agreements regarding data sharing and file sharing (volunteer lists, donor lists, direct mail lists, voter files, etc)
As a result of the Equality For All campaign, a variety of data sets will be developed, e.g., donor lists, volunteer lists, email lists, etc.. These data sets could be of great benefit to subsequent users for such matters as: future anti- or pro-glbt ballot measures; electing GLBT and pro-equality candidates; impacting pro- or anti-glbt legislation; volunteer recruitment; fundraising and action oriented or other communications, and more. These data sets will constitute a significant asset and the voter files in particular must be properly maintained and managed. These policies are intended to govern how such data sets will be developed and used……
EQCA’s job will be to ensure proper use of the data sets in accordance with established policy and to ensure that the voter file is properly maintained (which could be done by EQCA overseeing a paid vendor that specializes in maintaining and updating voter files). With regard to the voter file, the intent is for EQCA to ensure that it is kept updated and current so that it will be ready for use in future ballot measures/initiatives relevant to GLBT civil rights or for other proper uses pursuant to established policy. The intent with regard to the other data sets is to ensure that they are properly utilized in accordance with established policy.”
Certainly those Facebook contacts and whatever other “data” EQCA is holding could prove useful to Freedom to Marry. But there has been no significant public effort to collaborate with Freedom to Marry to ensure success at the ballot. Abbitt, for one, has noticed. “EQCA’s failure to help the marriage effort hurts the movement,” she said.
Thomas Watson, co-founder of Love Honor Cherish, has had issues with EQCA before. But as a co-host of a Freedom to Marry event, he, too, was on Abbitt’s email list and was furious with the exchange. He emailed me:
“By any objective measure, EQCA is a failed organization that has largely abdicated its mission of being THE organization fighting to advance LGBT equality in California.
EQCA has been without effective leadership and has been bleeding cash for more than a year. Not only does it still lack an executive director, rather than cleaning house of the people responsible for its internal chaos, EQCA has retained and promoted them. For example, the person in charge of EQCA’s disastrous search for a new executive director is now the board chair of EQCA’s 501(c)(3). And, critically, EQCA wasted $200,000 – $200,000 donated by Californians to EQCA’s PAC on the premise that it would be used to fight for marriage equality – to pay consultants and general operating expenses….It’s time for new leadership.”
While the board presidents insisted during the Sept. 11 interview that the EQCA “brand” is just as strong as ever, more and more of the LGBT community perceives NCLR as the lead advocacy group in the state. And with these board presidents insisting that the board have a say in almost every decision the new ED makes – one wonders how long a new ED – who is supposed to be announced in “a few weeks” – will put up with being micro-managed and second-guessed.
And how is a new ED supposed to rebuild EQCA when the board presidents disparage longtime LGBT checkbook activists and hardworking staff whom history and the donor community admire?
On the very bright side – a late Tuesday, Oct, 2 afternoon email about how EQCA is not concerned about a lawsuit filed by NARTH challenging SB 1172 included comments by new board member David Codell, a longtime, honored, behind-the-scenes pro bono attorney for the group. Maybe the leadership is changing.
HERE IS THE ENTIRE AGREEMENT REGARDING “DATA” FROM THE NO ON PROP 8 CAMPAIGN DAYS:
IV. Agreements regarding data sharing and file sharing (volunteer lists, donor lists, direct mail lists, voter files, etc)
As a result of the Equality For All campaign, a variety of data sets will be developed, e.g., donor lists, volunteer lists, email lists, etc.. These data sets could be of great benefit to subsequent users for such matters as: future anti- or pro-glbt ballot measures; electing GLBT and pro-equality candidates; impacting pro- or anti-glbt legislation; volunteer recruitment; fundraising and action oriented or other communications, and more. These data sets will constitute a significant asset and the voter files in particular must be properly maintained and managed. These policies are intended to govern how such data sets will be developed and used.
a. Development of Lists: The Equality for All campaign activities will result in the collection of information for the various data sets. In addition, it is hoped that GLBT and allied organizations with California lists will provide those lists for campaign use. Further, organizations represented on the Campaign Committee are expected to share their California donor/membership lists for campaign use as part of their participation in the campaign. It is expected that such organizations will permit the use of their list at least three times, twice for fundraising solicitation by mail and once for GOTV voter matches. Such lists are to be shared without restriction as to size of donor, etc. (e.g., it would not be viewed as being in compliance with this provision for an organization to share only its donors at or below $100). Of course, such lists do not become the property of the Equality for All campaign and will be used through a mail house unless the organization lending the list does not desire to do so. Any donors from such lists who do give to the campaign do become a permanent part of the campaign data sets. Organizations are not expected to provide their email lists to the campaign, although they are welcome to do so. Still, it is hoped that those who do not do so will communicate relevant campaign information via their email lists.
b. Use of Lists: First, all data gathered by the campaign, e.g., volunteer lists, donor lists, direct mail lists, voter files, email lists, etc., are the property of the campaign and not of any individuals or organizations associated with the campaign (such data would not include the lists that supportive organizations have loaned to the campaign through mail houses or otherwise and which were never intended to be incorporated into the campaign data base). Further, organizations with their own voter identification programs (either preceding or created during the campaign) shall be entitled to keep the voter file data that their programs have gathered even though it also will have been provided to the campaign.
Second, given that the Equality For All campaign will cease to exist within a relatively short period of time after the election, and given that the entire purpose for gathering these data sets was the advancement of the cause of glbt civil rights in the State of California, we believe that the proper entity to manage these data sets is the statewide GLBT advocacy organization, Equality California (“EQCA”). Therefore, subsequent to the campaign all data sets will be provided to EQCA, which will act as their custodian. No other individual or entity will be provided with a copy of or be granted permission to use the data sets, except as in accordance with the policies and principles provided herein (“established policy”).
EQCA’s job will be to ensure proper use of the data sets in accordance with established policy and to ensure that the voter file is properly maintained (which could be done by EQCA overseeing a paid vendor that specializes in maintaining and updating voter files). With regard to the voter file, the intent is for EQCA to ensure that it is kept updated and current so that it will be ready for use in future ballot measures/initiatives relevant to GLBT civil rights or for other proper uses pursuant to established policy. The intent with regard to the other data sets is to ensure that they are properly utilized in accordance with established policy.
It is the campaign’s established policy that “proper uses” are: (1) for future statewide anti- or pro-glbt ballot measure/initiative campaigns. In the event of such campaigns, all data sets shall be provided to the campaign organization created to defeat or pass such measures. (2) for future anti- or pro-glbt ballot measures or initiatives at local (less than statewide) levels. EQCA shall share portions of the data sets with the California organization or campaign that is leading the effort to defeat or pass such measures. The portions shared would be for the relevant geographical areas unless EQCA determines that larger portions of the list are warranted. (3) for future statewide ballot measures that would have a positive or negative impact upon progressive issues that are not specifically glbt-related but which impact the glbt community and our allies, e.g., measures that would restrict or enhance reproductive rights. Ideally, such allied campaigns would share an equal number of names as what was provided to them so that the voter file being maintained by EQCA will be enhanced. (4) for use by the EQCA candidate PAC in endorsement mailings and/or GOTV mailings for state legislative and constitutional offices.
Specifically with regard to the email list, “proper use” would include: mobilizing people in support of or against glbt-related legislation at the national, state and local levels. The presumptive user for legislation at the national or state levels would be EQCA, although it may be determined that more effective results would be achieved in particular geographical areas if local organizations were the users. In addition, such use for national legislation should be done in consultation with relevant national glbt organizational partners. The presumptive user(s) for local laws/regulations would be local glbt organizations, with priority given to organizations that provided representatives to serve on the Campaign Committee. The intent is that email lists will be using for action oriented and other relevant communications, NOT for fundraising (for which the donor lists are appropriate). California organizations which provided representatives to serve on the Campaign Committee shall also be entitled to geographically appropriate use of email addresses for: local glbt-related rallies, publicizing local glbt-related events, glbt-related action alerts, etc.
It shall be within EQCA’s discretion to determine whether a particular measure meets the above standard and which of the data sets shall be shared and for what purpose. For example, donor lists typically should be shared on a one-time basis through a mail house so that lists do not become the permanent property of organizations with which they have been shared. Or, voter files would typically be shared for voter education, identification and mobilization purposes only, not for use in soliciting funds. The intent behind sharing our data sets two-fold. First, there is often a nexus between other progressive issues and glbt rights. Second, if we help allied communities with progressive issues that are important to them, they will help us in advancing the cause of glbt civil rights. Nothing in this policy would prohibit EQCA from establishing a policy, if necessary, that allied organizations with whom donor lists have been shared for fundraising purposes would be required to return the first $500 raised to EQCA for use in expenses associated with maintaining the voter file or other data sets.
Nonprofit organizations which have contributed $100,000 or more in reportable donations (in cash or in kind) to the Equality For All campaign shall be entitled to one geographically appropriate use of the donor lists, volunteer lists and email lists within the first 18 months after the campaign. Donor lists shall be used for fundraising purposes or other communication, volunteer and email lists would be used only for non-fundraising purposes. Organizations which have contributed their mailing lists to the Campaign for one-time or multiple fundraising use shall be entitled after the campaign to one-time or multiple use of an equal number of donor names at equivalent levels to what they provided (if relevant, selected for a proper geographical area) for fundraising use; one-time or multiple, whichever matches what such organizations originally provided to the Campaign. Again, EQCA will monitor the use of such data to ensure that multiple solicitations are not happening at the same time that could result in list fatigue.
California-based nonprofit organizations which provided representatives to serve on the “campaign committee” will be entitled, upon request, to a copy of the portion of the volunteer lists that correspond to their geographical area.
EQCA, in its discretion, may sell portions of the list to candidates running for elected office in California (local, statewide or national offices), provided that such lists are sold at market value and that the candidates to whom the lists are sold support GLBT equality. However, for candidates who explicitly support the freedom to marry, such lists shall be provided for an appropriately nominal fee, e.g., $5.00 or at whatever cost EQCA incurs in providing the list. Proceeds from the sale of the list to such candidates shall be held in reserve to pay for the costs of maintaining the list and to serve as seed money in the event of future anti- or pro-glbt ballot measures/initiatives.
c. Maintaining the Voter Files. The Equality For All Campaign will strive to ensure that the campaign concludes with a small surplus which would cover several years of costs that would be incurred by EQCA in maintaining the voter files (and, if relevant, other data sets). In any event, any surplus realized after the end of the Equality For All campaign, after all expenses have been paid, will be distributed to EQCA. If this surplus exceeds $25,000, the surplus will be held in an interest bearing or endowment account by EQCA for use in future anti- or pro-glbt ballot measure/initiative campaigns. The fund may also be used for expenses associated with maintaining the voter file. In the event that no such ballot measure/initiative arises in the 5 years after the close of the Equality For All Campaign, then any funds remaining shall be distributed to EQCA for use in its operations (should circumstances result in EQCA desiring an earlier release of such surplus funds, it may request an earlier release, to be decided pursuant to the dispute resolution process outlined below. In the event that the campaign ends with no surplus, EQCA may use the donor list once a year to raise funds. The net proceeds from such fundraising mailing shall be held in an interest bearing account and used as though it were a campaign surplus, in accordance with the disputes provision in (d) below.
d. Disputes. Any and all disputes arising under these policies, including concerning application or interpretation, and any questions about what constitutes proper use, or action on a request for early release of funds, shall be resolved by a majority vote of the people occupying the following three positions at the time the dispute arises: the Executive Director/CEO of Equality California, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. EQCA (or any subsequent data sets custodian) agrees to be bound by and to act in accordance with the majority decision concerning all such disputes. If it fails to do so, it will relinquish the right to serve as one of the three bodies participating in the dispute resolution process and it will also be required to relinquish the right to possess, use, maintain and manage the data sets. In that event, all such data sets and funds held in reserve pursuant to these policies shall immediately be turned over to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center or the National Center for Lesbian Rights. If both are willing to maintain the data sets in this event but an agreement cannot be reached as to which organization shall do so, the question shall be decided by a flip of a coin witnessed by the CEO/Executive Director of each organization or his/her designee. Also in that event, the remaining two dispute resolution organizations shall choose a new dispute resolution partner to replace EQCA from among California-based glbt organizations.