$8 Million Gift Will Boost ACLU Campaign to Fight Bush Administration's Assault on Civil Liberties

January 15, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that Peter B. Lewis, chairman of The Progressive Corporation and a long-time ACLU member and donor, has made an unprecedented gift of $8 million. A significant portion of the gift will be used to fight Bush Administration policies that trample on civil liberties.

“This enormously generous gift will help the ACLU to meet the challenge of defending essential freedoms in the post-Sept. 11 world, while continuing to protect individual rights and fight discrimination,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.

The gift, which includes $2 million in general funding and $6 million to the ACLU endowment, the Trust for the Bill of Rights, is the largest-ever named gift from an individual in the organization’s history, the group said.

The gift also brings the ACLU within sight of its endowment fund goal of $50 million. The group said $2 million in general funding will be used to underwrite advertising and grassroots activities associated with “Keep America Safe and Free,” the ACLU campaign to protect civil liberties in a time of crisis.

“Even when our country is in the midst of an economic downturn, Peter recognizes that civil liberties are not a luxury item to be supported only in times of plenty,” Romero added. “We hope that this significant gift will encourage other ACLU supporters to make an investment in civil liberties at this crucial time in our nation’s history. While many remain silent at this critical juncture in U.S. history, Peter Lewis has demonstrated his courage as well as his patriotism in supporting this important work.”

Romero noted that close to 90,000 individuals joined the ACLU in 2002. The membership rolls, which had remained at approximately 300,000 for the past three years, has increased substantially since the attacks of September 11-a sign, Romero said, that Americans are concerned that their civil liberties are being traded off the name of security.

Today’s gift is not the first time Lewis has invested significantly in the ACLU. In July 2001, he set another ACLU record with a gift of $7 million to the endowment fund-the largest the organization had ever received. Lewis’ gift helped match a $14 million challenge from the Ford Foundation, which had contributed $7 million to the endowment campaign in June 1999.

The ACLU created the Trust for the Bill of Rights endowment fund to help meet unanticipated emergencies, sustain ACLU program quality and ensure a strong presence in all areas of the country.

Lewis, an ACLU member since 1972, said that the ACLU’s critically important work to protect individual freedoms in this country took on a new urgency after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the legislative and policy changes that followed.

“Now more than ever, the ACLU is an essential institution whose work protects the rights of everyone in this country,” Lewis said. “I can think of no more patriotic action I can take right now than supporting the ACLU.”

Headquartered in New York City, the ACLU has 53-staffed affiliates in major cities, more than 300 chapters nationwide, and a legislative office in Washington, D.C. The ACLU Foundation (ACLUF) is the national tax-deductible, 501(c)(3) arm of the ACLU. Its combined annual budget is approximately $50 million.

The bulk of the annual budget is raised by contributions from individual members plus grants from foundations. Eighty percent of the budget directly supports litigation, legislation and public education programs. Fund raising costs average twelve percent of total expenses, and management and administration account for an additional 8 percent. This level of efficiency consistently ranks the ACLU and ACLUF among the nation’s best-run charitable organizations, with high approval ratings from industry watchdog groups.

Anthony D. Romero has been Executive Director of the national ACLU since 2001; Nadine Strossen was elected president of the National Board in 1991. Founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Albert DeSilver, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, Helen Keller and Arthur Garfield Hayes, the ACLU celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2000.

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