Supporting the ACLU

The financial crisis threatens to curtail vital Constitutional and civil liberties defenses.

Published December 10, 2009 12:11PM (EST)

As The New York Times reported yesterday, the ACLU this year, largely without warning, lost its single largest source of funding as a result of the financial crisis.  The loss of that individual donor, who had been contributing $20 million per year, was a major blow to the organization, "punching a 25 percent hole in its annual operating budget and forcing cutbacks in operations."  That loss came on top of substantial fundraising losses last year from the financial crisis and the Madoff fraud, which had already forced the group to lay-off numerous employees and cut back substantially on its activities.  The lost donor made clear yesterday that he continues to support the ACLU's work emphatically but is simply now financially unable to continue his support.

It is not hyperbole to say that, over the past decade, there has been no organization more important to the United States, the Constitution, and basic political liberties than the ACLU.  From the start of the Bush/Cheney assault on core civil liberties -- when most organizations and individuals were petrified of opposing any efforts justified by "terrorism" -- the ACLU was one of a small handful of groups which defied that climate of fear by vigorously and fearlessly opposing those erosions.  Along with that same small handful of civil liberties and human rights groups, the ACLU since then has been at the center of virtually every fight against government incursions into basic rights.  They defend core Constitutional principles regardless of party or ideology, and they continue to lead this fight even now that Bush is gone from office.  As I detailed here, their crucial efforts extend far beyond litigating and lobbying, as they have often been forced to fulfill the investigative and oversight role intended for -- but abdicated by -- our national media and Congress.  Indeed, most of what we know about the Bush torture regime and other lawbreaking schemes is the result not of newspapers or Congressional investigations but the ACLU.

I think many people who are extremely supportive of the ACLU haven't previously donated to them because of the perception that they're well-funded and that there are other organizations with a greater need.  That is why, despite my consulting with them for the last couple of years, I've never suggested that people donate to them before.  But this is no longer true.  There is a genuine risk that this loss of funding can curtail vital ACLU activities and force the loss of critical lawyers and other personnel.  The need for support is genuine and substantial, and I really encourage anyone who supports the truly indispensable work they do, and who is able to do so, to express that support through membership or donation.  That can be done here.

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By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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