Frustrated by political gridlock on Capitol Hill, the American Civil Liberties Union is mounting an ambitious campaign to boost its effectiveness starting with a political advocacy program for 2016 and beyond.
With $80 million in commitments, both promised and collected, for a 501(c)(4) tax exempt organization, ACLU officials have retained veteran Democratic operative Karin Johanson as its newly established national political director.
Currently the campaign manager for the Coalition to Stop Fast Track — which opposes “secretive negotiations” of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership – Johanson previously served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, when that party gained control of the House.
Johanson’s role will be to run the ACLU’s D.C. office and lead several ballot initiative campaigns for 2016, which call for criminal justice reform and outlawing discrimination against the LGBT community.
According to ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, the 95-year-old activist organization is seeking a higher profile for its legal and political work.
Utilizing offices already in all 50 states, the ACLU plans to boost federal lobbying efforts, and merge it with state advocacy programs.
“It has become increasingly clear that we can’t rely upon litigation or old-style lobbying,” Romero told The Washington Post. “Sitting down with legislators, walking through the pros and cons of a particular bill and trying to cajole them to do the right thing increasingly draws limited dividends.
“The place to light a fire under them is in their home district.”
In the near future, the ACLU will target three states with high incarceration rates to launch ballot initiatives for sentencing reform. Five states are under consideration, but available resources will limit the campaign to only three, increasing the chances for victory.
Since criminal justice is a powerful, wide-ranging issue, support is expected to come from a range of groups — liberals, fiscal conservatives and libertarians such as the billionaire Koch brothers.
“This is not a reform effort focused on the Northeast liberal corridor,” Romero told The Post. “We’re going to the tough states, the Deep South.”