'Trump bump' gives ACLU big gains in money and members

ACLU’s membership on pace to eclipse 2 million in 2017

By Ben Giles
BridgeTower Media Newswires
PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union is riding a wave of new support and contributions in the wake of President Trump’s election, and the organization’s Arizona chapter is no exception.

The “Trump bump” has boosted many left-leaning policy groups, but perhaps none more so than the ACLU, according to U.S. News and World Report, which chronicled how the ACLU’s donor base has grown at historic rates since Trump’s victory in November.

Nationally, ACLU’s membership is on pace to eclipse 2 million members in 2017. And in January, when Trump’s travel ban was announced, the ACLU raised $24 million, smashing its normal annual fundraising haul in one weekend.

In Arizona, the group had roughly 5,000 members before the presidential election, but that base has quadrupled since November to roughly 20,000 members, according to Executive Director Alessandra Soler. The organization’s email list, a primary driver of fundraising, has grown by 20,000 names as well, from 40,000 to 60,000, Soler said.

“This is the greatest outpouring of support for the ACLU in our nearly 100-year history,” she said.

All those new dollars will help finance three new positions at the local ACLU chapter, whose 13-member staff could grow to 20 by the end of the year, Soler said.

For now, Soler is hiring a political director, a police practices attorney, and a criminal justice expert.

While Policy Director Will Gaona will continue to function as the chapter’s chief lobbyist at the state Capitol, the political director will coordinate grassroots efforts and other campaigns to influence issues-based voting, including votes taken in the House and Senate, as well as votes for candidates in election years, Soler said.

“Really, it is someone who helps us win our state legislative battles,” Soler said, adding that it’s not just via lobbying but also through incorporating different tactics.

The political director will help the ACLU move from its standard play of defense against legislation it opposes at the Capitol into affirmative policy work, she said. For instance, the ACLU in Pennsylvania hired formerly incarcerated individuals to help with a door-to-door campaign focused on criminal justice reform and a pay raise for district attorneys in the state.

“That’s something that we would love to do here in Arizona, given how influential the prosecutors are down at the Legislature,” Soler said.

A new police practices attorney will focus on oversight of the Melendres case, the 2007 lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for discriminatory practices under the stewardship of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio’s criminal contempt proceedings have been somewhat of a distraction from the meat of the case, which is over compliance with court-ordered remedies to undo those discriminatory practices, and the new ACLU attorney will ensure that compliance starts happening under new Sheriff Paul Penzone, Soler said.

The criminal justice expert will provide in-house expertise to help the ACLU get the ball rolling on its criminal justice reform efforts, Soler said. The seeds of those efforts were planted this spring, when several bills to overhaul areas like the state’s cash bond system were introduced but gained little traction at the Capitol.

Soler said the new criminal justice position will likely be a temporary one, aimed at accomplishing reforms in the next three years.