Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can the NYT Prove Courage Campaign
Has 700,000 Members?

The New York Times ran a story yesterday by Jesse McKinley, one that garnered much attention and debate in the gay community, about what the situation is in California for going back to the ballot in the next few years to win back gay marriage rights. Here is what the paper said about how many people supposedly belong to the Courage Campaign:
Sarah Callahan, chief operating officer of the Courage Campaign, a 700,000-member advocacy group in Los Angeles, told the gathering [of gay activists in San Bernardino] on Saturday that the two critical elements to persuade donors were organization and a winning plan.
You may recall that CC's membership stats were questioned in June, and the group chose to ignore a gay reporter's request for answers. From Queerty's post on this last month:
It's this non-transparency among Gay Inc. that led Bob Roehr, a D.C. correspondent for the Bay Area Reporter, to quiz the Courage Campaign's Rick Jacobs on how he counts membership. Guess what? He's still waiting for a response.

The Courage Campaign claims 700,000 members (though Wikipedia says it's just 400,000, a number that hasn't changed since at least February). Indeed, that's just 50,000 fewer than HRC, even though HRC started in the 1980s, and the Courage Campaign has been around for just a handful of years.

And Roehr, among others, wants to know how Jacobs counts members. (To be sure, CC's website says it is "an online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots activists"; so if that's not 700,000 "members," we'd still like to know how they came up with that figure.)

It's a fair question, given the Courage Campaign actively solicits donations from the community in its email blasts every few days, and asks us to rely on it for gay activism in California. And why is knowing the true figure so important? Because it will give us one more piece of information to know just how effective CC is in the struggle for our rights.

So far, Jacobs remains silent, according to Roehr, who notes, "I asked these questions a week ago and still haven't received any answers. They are pretty basic ones and important to how one views an organization, the people behind it, their motivations, and the ability to put an organization within a context of other organizations."
I've been emailing McKinley since yesterday about what proof he received from CC regarding their membership numbers, and this is his reply:
The short answer is that I took the CC at their word on membership. In conversations since, they say that the 700,000 is conservative, and that it represents all online contacts, including petitions, requests for information, phone contacts, etc. I’ll follow to see if that holds water, and if it proves to be unsustainable, we’ll run a correction.
Good for McKinley to shed some light on all this, but I fear CC is just like the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to membership figures, and real power. It's damn difficult to prove they have all the members they claim, and that the numbers represent power.

I fear that CC may be counting me as a member, even though I don't consider myself such, because I've posted critical messages to their blog. Sorry, just because someone signs CC petition or asks for info does not equal full-fledged membership in a group.

In his piece, McKinley also reported that 700,000 signatures are necessary to qualify a ballot proposition to go before the voters. Well, if CC actually has 700,000 members, all the group need do to get on the ballot, in either 2010 or 2012 or 2014, is simply get all their members to sign the petitions.

Just think: We won't need to pay for signature gatherers or mount a complicated signature-drive whenever we decided to go back to the voters!

Let's see what McKinley and the Times turn up in terms of verifiable standards proving CC has 700,000 people in their ranks.


Anonymous said...

The connection you've made, Michael, between Rick Jacobs' membership claim and ballot initiative voter qualification numbers is NOT coincidental. Funder advisors have FINALLY begun to do the same math, and to have found the calculation ... let's just say lacking truthiness.

The Times piece revealed (sooo not surprising) lack of substantiation on several fronts, and relied on information sources who've got major skin-in-the-game perspective problems. Just ask Molly McKay...

Anonymous said...

It's pretty obvious that not all of those 700,000 are CA voters, so your point about signature collecting is a bit much.

Anonymous said...

No where near 700,000 members. Just look at their "canvass" efforts that they quietly stopped doing because no one was showing up. Good PR machine though, alot of people think they are a massive group, with huge membership base, when in reality it's Rick Jacobs working out of his home and his assistant working out of a spare bedroom.