Civil Liberties Group Loses $20 Million Donor

Stephanie Strom, New York Times, December 9, 2009

A longtime anonymous donor to the American Civil Liberties Union has withdrawn his annual gift of more than $20 million, punching a 25 percent hole in its annual operating budget and forcing cutbacks in operations.

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A.C.L.U. board members, who insisted on anonymity because the loss of the gift was reported in an executive session of their meeting, identified the donor as David Gelbaum, who made a fortune as a hedge fund manager and is now better known as a major investor in clean technology.

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Mr. Gelbaum took a rare turn in the spotlight earlier this decade when environmental activists said he was behind the Sierra Club’s decision to adopt a neutral stance on immigration. Some people believe immigration has aggravated environmental problems.

He had given the organization a total of $101.5 million, according to The Los Angeles Times, which wrote what is perhaps the only major profile of him, in 2004. In the article, he is quoted as saying that he told Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director, in 1994 or 1995 “that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”

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