Yesterday I took a look at the finances behind the new direct action group GetEqual and asked, "Is GetEqual the new HRC?" Today I'd like to take a look at who holds GetEqual accountable for their actions.
Many of yesterday's commenters pointed out that a major difference between HRC and GetEqual is that HRC constantly duns the LGBT community for donations while GetEqual doesn't. Instead, GetEqual is mostly funded by wealthy Progressive Insurance heir Jonathan Lewis and his financial adviser Paul Yandura.
According to HRC's latest annual report, only 40% of their budget comes from small donations while the rest is made up of large donations, bequests, grants and merchandise sales. The overwhelming majority of their board members have seats because they either donate large sums of money to the org or they can fundraise significant amounts from other sources. These are the people that make the important decisions about HRC's actions and that hold the group accountable.
With any organization, whoever holds the pocketbook is who's in charge. With only two major funding sources, who sets GetEqual's goals and priorities? As many readers pointed out, the way GetEqual is currently set up, they don't have to answer to anyone - there are no members, there is no board, and Lewis told The Advocate he doesn't help plan direct actions although Yandura "helps where [he] can."
This begs the question of who's accountable for GetEqual's actions? Let's the lift the veil a bit and see if we can figure it out.
The Major Donors
Jonathan Lewis, by all accounts, is GetEqual's largest donor - including a recent donation of a quarter of a million dollars. According to The Advocate article, GetEqual's co-directors Kip Williams and Robin McGehee approached Lewis and Yandura before last year's National Equality March in their capacity as co-directors of the march.
The two asked the men for $25,000 to fund youth outreach for the march, but Yandura, a critic of the march, declined. Once the march was a success, however, the men were willing to reconsider. Williams and McGehee flew to Miami to meet with the two funders and start discussing the formation of a new direct action organization.
Lewis admits to The Advocate that a large part of his motivation to fund the upstart org was his frustration with Democrats' political homophobia after feeling snubbed by the administration when the President sent a senior official to address a group of major progressive political donors instead of coming himself. Yandura told the magazine, "The final break for me is when I heard them using the same excuses that myself and Brian Bond and Andy Tobias made during the Clinton administration."
Yandura, who worked in President Clinton's LGBT office, is known for his outspoken criticism of the Democratic Party. The gay Democrat has never been afraid to hold the party's feet to the fire in an attempt to force the group to live up to their pro-gay rhetoric.
In 2006, Yandura's partner, Donald Hitchcock, sued the DNC after he was fired from his job as director of the group's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council less than a week after Yandura publicly criticized the party for not fighting anti-gay ballot measures playing out in several states. Former DNC chairman Howard Dean, openly gay party treasurer Andrew Tobias, and former Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council Executive Director Brian Bond, now the Obama administration's Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement, were all deposed for the lawsuit and the public exposure of many internal memos and statements deeply embarrassed the party. The DNC decided to settle out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Yandura was quickly enchanted with Williams and McGehee's charisma and energy and soon was deeply involved with the two activists. While Yandura casually told the Advocate he "helps where [he] can" to plan actions, he also admits that he owns the DC home where GetEqual plans actions and members regularly sleep.
Nothing says "I have power over you" than "I own the house you sleep in while you work for the organization I fund." While the intentions are more than likely positive, the power dynamic is undeniable and uncomfortable.
The Lone Wolf
Yandura's well-known feud with the party combined with Lewis' money and Williams and McGehee's lust for quick movement on LGBT issues has combined with fiery codependency. When GetEqual paints itself as the lone wolf organization that has no masters and flies independent of the other groups' agendas, keep in mind that they still have to pay the piper.
While the organization has heckled President Obama twice at fundraisers for California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, they have yet to protest any Republicans. While a local Arizona group has protested outside of Senator John McCain's office and credit was originally given to GetEqual, the group has only protested Democrats who are, at least nominally, considered friends and haven't voted against any LGBT legislation.
Who is calling the shots on GetEqual's actions if Lewis doesn't participate and Yandura is only minimally involved? According to new Managing Director Heather Cronk, there's been no one responsible at the helm.
"'Calling the shots' makes it sound as if there is no community input on GetEQUAL's work. There are many volunteers across the country who suggest actions and who come up with creative campaign ideas. We are currently in the process of coming up with a better system for hearing that feedback and acting on it, to be sure, but there's no 'Wizard' behind the curtain."
Who decided on the group's mission and purpose? The org has a mission statement published on their website, but it's incredibly vague and puffed full of grievances on behalf of the community and a paragraph touting the success of the National Equality March - a march that Williams and McGehee produced but Yandura, at least, opposed.
"Our mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way," the statement says.
Cronk says that the basics for the organization were left up to Williams and McGehee. "The group's mission, vision, and purpose was created before I came on board, but was created primarily by Robin and Kip -- again with input from volunteers, community members, and other activists," she said.
"There haven't been nationwide community meetings or house parties or the like, but there have been conversations with folks in Dallas, Fresno, New York, DC, and a few other places -- mainly to garner feedback from a broad cross-section of folks -- but those have been informal," Cronk said.
"Many of the folks who who have provided input have been folks who were involved with and took an active role in the National Equality March. Those folks have been solicited for input because they represent a diversity of ideas and identities and geographies -- and have largely not been reached by other national orgs."
At the End of the Day
There's only so long you can rely on the excuse that your organization is new to differentiate you from the status quo. Once again there's been plenty of action with minimal organizational input or energy.
Williams and McGehee promised there would be a plan after the National Equality March and one wasn't needed until after since it was just a campaign and the organization would follow. The implosion of Equality Across America soon followed and the two jumped ship citing concerns about financial security and the leadership of the new organization.
Eventually a responsible organization takes the steps to make themselves accountable for their actions. GetEqual has started this process, including installing some form of oversight by an organization board, but unfortunately the transparency levels so far haven't been up to par. Installing a handpicked board made up of large donors and fundraisers is the way many of the largest progressive orgs - HRC included - operate.
The group says they have invited six people to join the org's board but won't disclose who they are until after an upcoming staff retreat because some are still unconfirmed. These mysterious individuals will be charged with shaping the group's direction and tactics, funding sources, tax status, and executive hiring decisions, but GetEqual has already made many of those decisions without them.
Williams and McGehee have handpicked their counsel from friends and allies from their days with the National Equality March. Many former Equality Across America board members jumped ship with the two so it'll be interesting to see who they've picked to sit on the GetEqual board. Will it be packed with cronies and allies or will it consist of a respectable and diverse mix of seasoned and new activists?
After billing themselves as a grassroots organization meant for the common queer activist, so far what I'm seeing is wealthy funders giving two recently successful organizers quite a bit of cash to raise hell with no concrete strategy, deliverables, standards or apparent benefit to the LGBT community. While the group seems to know their place in this insiders/out strategy they're playing with HRC, some of the similarities are still too obvious to be overlooked.
The majority of the orgs' money comes from large donors, we've got no input into the direction of the orgs, the leadership is self-selective, and they both purport to represent our community while making important decisions on our behalf without permission or serious regard to the effects their actions can have on the rest of us.
I am friends with many of the GetEqual leaders. I have no doubt that Williams, McGehee, Cronk, Yandura and Lewis are good people who sincerely want to help push the movement forward. But so does Joe Solmonese.
The Entire Series
Part 1: Follow the Money: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: GetEqual: A Response & Clarification
Part 2: Behind the Veil: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: Part 2: GetEqual responds again
Part 3: Through a Glass Darkly: Is GetEqual the New HRC?