The American Civil Liberties Union has nearly quadrupled its spending on advocacy since President Trump took office and plans to ramp up its activism against the president ahead of the 2020 elections.
The ACLU spent nearly $32.5 million on legislative work in fiscal 2019, up from $8.34 million in fiscal 2016, according to the group’s financial report for fiscal 2019, which ended March 31.
“We are committed to fight for civil rights and civil liberties in the courts, in the halls of Congress and statehouses, in the streets, and at ballot boxes across the country,” Ronnie Newman, ACLU national political director, said in a statement to The Washington Times. “Our objectives can be reached in multiple ways, and as an institution, we are committed to being a difference-maker in all these arenas.”
The ACLU’s spending to sway lawmakers nationwide increased by about $12.5 million last year alone. Nearly one-third of the spending increase in 2019 came from the ACLU’s foundation, which is not required to disclose its donors.
The advocacy was spread across a number of issues, but one critical area the ACLU targeted in 2019 and is preparing to hit again this year is “abortion access for all.”
“Emboldened by the Trump administration and a reconfigured Supreme Court, state lawmakers continued to try and deny people their legal right to safe abortions,” the ACLU’s report states. “We worked overtime to stop them in their tracks. This year, we fought a flood of abortion bans and other harsh restrictions in several states.”
In the coming months, the ACLU plans to continue its “rapid response” operation to challenges to legalized abortion, particularly in Montana and Virginia.
The group has trained 650 “Rights for All campaigners” to hound presidential candidates into making on-the-record statements about “key civil liberties issues,” Executive Director Anthony Romero said in the annual report.
It also is mobilizing more than 700,000 “People Power activists” to protect voting rights in the 2020 elections. The group says it is expecting record-high participation from high school and college students at its summer advocacy training program in Washington.
“In recent years, we’ve seen an outpouring of support from people all over the country who not only wanted to give to the ACLU, but also wanted to engage and volunteer with us,” Mr. Romero told the Times. “That was perfect. Because the more folks we had in the fight, the more successful we’d be.”
Beyond abortion, the ACLU is focusing on privacy and LGBTQ equality concerns.
The group fought to increase restrictions on facial recognition technology last year and is working to get local law enforcement agencies to stop sharing residents’ geographical location information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
The ACLU’s LGBTQ portfolio included both advocacy and legal work, particularly on transgender rights. That included rallying nationwide opposition to the Trump administration’s interpretation that Title IX doesn’t apply to transgender students and a Supreme Court case about the definition of “sex” as it applies to the identity of a funeral home worker.
In the coming year, the ACLU’s LGBTQ work may involve heading back to the Supreme Court to fight a florist who would not design an arrangement for a same-sex wedding. The group also is targeting the florist for discrimination in a civil suit, which could cost the florist her personal savings as well as those of her business.
But the ACLU’s lurch to the left, as it pursues causes that match the policy priorities of its donors, is prompting individuals seeking relief in run-of-the-mill civil liberties cases to look elsewhere, some observers say.
One group that looks to benefit from the ACLU’s shift in direction is the nonprofit Speech First, which formed less than two years ago to fight for students’ free speech rights on campus. The group is led by President Nicole Neily, who belonged to an ACLU student group in college and has subsequently led the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and has served as executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.
In its first two years of existence, Speech First has filed four federal lawsuits that have all involved students’ complaints that their speech about gun rights has been chilled on campus.