© Josh Sager – January 2016
This week, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest pro-LGBT advocacy group in the USA announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. While many may see this as a completely irrelevant occurrence, it actually illustrates a fairly significant problem that has revealed itself within the non-profit community by the 2016 Democratic primary.
There are dozens of major non-profit political advocacy groups which have traditionally aligned with progressives—this includes pro-LGBT, pro-environmental, pro-union/worker’s rights, and pro-reproductive freedom organizations. These groups regularly endorse Democratic candidates who support their ideals and are willing to go to bat for them once in office.
The idea that these advocates would endorse Hillary Clinton for president is not objectively unusual (after all, there is little chance that they would endorse a Republican given their policy extremism on these issues)…except for the fact that Hillary is still running a primary against a politician who is demonstrably better than her on the issues that these groups supposedly care about.
Hillary Clinton helped push the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule during her husband’s tenure as president and actively opposed gay equality until as recently as 2013. She only changed her position on the issue of gay rights after public opinion had flipped so that a majority supported gay equality, making her “evolution” appear to be little more than a political decision to follow public opinion. Conversely, Bernie Sanders came out in favor of gay equality in the 1970s, when it was deeply unpopular and a real political liability, and has publically opposed all anti-gay legislation since then. Given this history, the idea that the largest pro-LGBT group would support Hillary over Bernie would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating.
Hillary on gay equality, circa 2008
Similarly, Hillary Clinton won the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders has a better record on environmental issues than Hillary Clinton according to the league’s own scoring system. While this disparity embarrassed the league when it was pointed out, they have yet to rescind their endorsement or switch it to the candidate who they claim has the best record in the race.
Additionally, several large unions, including the massive SEIU, have endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that she has a demonstrably worse record on workers’ rights and trade. Hillary has supported large “free trade” agreements (ex. TPP and NAFTA), opposes a public option for healthcare, and does not support the SEIU’s campaign to pass a $15 minimum wage (she supports a $10.10 minimum wage instead, which is significantly below the livability standard). Conversely, Bernie supports all of these pro-labor policies championed by the unions and has regularly joined union protests on the side of labor, actually putting shoes to the ground in support of union activities.
Some members of these advocacy organizations have pointed these disparities out and there has been a social media backlash to several of these endorsements, but there are few levers for them to force change. Such endorsements are not decided by a full member-vote, but rather through unaccountable decisions by executives. Given this, there is little chance that this disparity will ever be remedied.
Advocacy groups which have made a decision to support Hillary over Bernie, despite her inferior record on the issues that they purport to care about, are making a political decision that is both needless and unjustifiable. A charitable look at this situation would be that these groups see Hillary as the ascendant nominee and fear losing political access if they support Bernie based purely on the issues and he loses the primary anyway. I am sympathetic to this fear on the part of these groups—as it is a reasonable concern—but the proper thing to do in such a situation is to abstain from making an endorsement until the primary is over. This is a zero-risk proposition, as either Bernie wins the nomination and these groups can align behind him, or Hillary wins the nomination and these groups can honestly say that they are supporting the best candidate in the race (despite her flaws, Hillary is far superior to any modern Republican).
From a purely cynical perspective, I fear that these decisions may be a function of donors preferences. The Clintons have very deep roots in big-money interests and the private donor class, both of which are also strong financial backers of these advocacy groups. It is very possible that these groups are afraid that their donors would revolt if they back Bernie over Hillary, thus are choosing money over principle.
If you are a member of a political advocacy group, I strongly suggest that you look at who your organization is backing, how that support is determined (vote of membership, executive decision, litmus tests, donor control, etc.) and how the policies of that politician match up with other politicians on the issues that the group is organized around. Determine for yourself whether the advocates who you are funding are making the best policy choices, or whether they are playing politics and genuflecting to the establishment.