Non-profit

Human Rights Campaign

Hrc logo (link)
Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

52-1243457

DUNS Number:

71234439

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2018):

Revenue: $45,636,641
Expenses: $43,167,397
Assets: $19,710,097

Formation:

1980

Former President:

Alphonso David

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the nation’s largest LGBT-interest activist organization and a prominent force in left-of-center politics. Together with the affiliated Human Rights Campaign Foundation charitable arm and super-PAC, HRC has built relationships with powerful mostly Democratic Party politicians and major corporations, and has taken a leading role in Democratic Party politics and left-leaning activism. The group has faced criticism from the left over the years for insufficient zeal in securing its social-liberal agenda. [1] [2] [3]

Under the leadership of its former president, Chad Griffin, HRC has leveraged its position as the largest advocate for LGBT interests to pressure major corporations, law firms, hospitals, and local governments into implementing and expanding socially liberal policies, supporting Human Rights Campaign financially, and withdrawing support from conservative and religious organizations through implicit threats of low scores on its Corporate Equality Index, Healthcare Equality Index and Municipal Equality Index “scorecards.” [4]

History and Leadership

HRC was founded in 1980 by Stephen Endean as the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a political action committee for supporting pro-LGBT candidates. The organization merged with the Gay Rights National Lobby in 1985. [5]

Endean left the HRC because of health issues in the early 1990s. In 1995, new president and executive director Elizabeth Birch joined HRC from Apple. Birch led a rebranding and restructuring to the HRC’s current organizational structure, as well as introducing the organization’s “equal sign” logo. [6]

Cheryl Jacques took over HRC’s lead role in early 2004, but served less than 11 months before she departed in a “difference of management philosophy” after 11 states passed ballot measures limiting or banning same-sex marriage. [7]  After her departure, the HRC’s board decided to take what the New York Times described as “a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships.” The strategy reportedly grew out of the belief that Republican electoral victories in 2004 had been driven in part by voter backlash against HRC-promoted policies. [8]

Jacques was succeeded by former EMILY’s List CEO Joe Solmonese, who served until 2012 when he left HRC to become national co-chair of Barack Obama’s presidential re-election campaign. [9] Solomonese’s successor, former Clinton White House aide Chad Griffin stepped down in August 2019. [10]

Former president Alphonso David assumed leadership in 2019. David previously served as legal counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D). [11] In September 2021, David was fired for his involvement in suppressing allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Governor Cuomo. According to a report by New York Attorney General, Letitia James, David leaked the confidential personnel files of Cuomo’s first accuser, Lindsey Boylan, to the press in an attempt to discredit her allegations. [12] [13]

Finances and Funding

The HRC lobbying wing, Human Rights Campaign, Inc., reported $45,636,641 in 2017 revenues; of this, more than $2.2 was from the sale of HRC-branded merchandise. [14]

The organization takes funding from a number of other left-of-center interest groups, among them the National Education Association (NEA) labor union[15] and the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union. [16]

HRC’s charitable arm, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which is freer under tax law to receive contributions from charitable nonprofits and foundations like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation,[17] the Soros Fund Charitable Foundation,[18] and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America,[19] provides substantial transfers to the main HRC lobbying arm. [20] Between 2014 and 2017, these transfers totaled $3.6 million; more than triple the amount of all other grants the HRC Foundation made to other U.S.-based nonprofits combined during that same time period. [21][22][23]

HRC claims many major corporations as significant donors, including: [24]

  • Accenture
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Amazon
  • American Airlines
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Apple
  • Boston Scientific
  • BP
  • Capital One
  • Cargill
  • Carnival Cruise Lines
  • CenturyLink
  • Chevron
  • Citibank
  • Coca-Cola
  • Cox Cable
  • Danaher
  • Dell
  • Deloitte
  • Diageo
  • Ecolab
  • Ernst & Young
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Google
  • Guardian
  • Hershey
  • Hyatt
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Crew
  • Lexus
  • Lincoln Financial
  • Lyft
  • Macy’s
  • Mastercard
  • Microsoft
  • Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
  • MGM Resorts
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Nationwide Insurance
  • Nike
  • Nordstrom
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Pepsi
  • Pfizer
  • PNC
  • Shell
  • Symantec
  • Target
  • West Elm (Williams Sonoma & Pottery Barn)
  • UBS
  • UPS
  • US Bank
  • Whirlpool

Lobbying Priorities

Human Rights Campaign has won few significant victories for its supported policies through the federal legislative process, with most of its successes coming through the courts, ballot initiatives or executive actions. [25] The only federal law claimed by HRC on its “Our Victories” website page is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed and signed into law in 2009. [26] [27]

Equality Act

Human Rights Campaign’s leading policy priority is the Equality Act, federal legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. [28] The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2019 on a largely party-line vote, with eight Republicans voting in favor and no Democrats voting against. [29] [30]

The legislation would prohibit legal defenses based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, meaning faith-based organizations would be forced to violate their religious beliefs about gender and sexual orientation or face penalties under the law. Major religious denominations such the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints[31] [32] and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops[33] not only oppose the legislation on these religious freedom grounds, but also warn that it could eliminate special legal considerations for women, such as Title IX and protected spaces such as women’s shelters, sports teams and single-sex education. [34]

Former Vice President and Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden said at a 2019 HRC event in Ohio that the Equality Act would be his first legislative priority if elected. [35]

Some LGBT activists argue that HRC’s support for the Equality Act functions more as a fundraising ploy than policy proposal, pointing to the extreme nature of those potential outcomes as a sign that the HRC is not serious about having it become law, while others express concern over the precedent it would set by “opening up” the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for amendment. [36] Rob McGee, an LGBT commentator, compared the Equality Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have extended some nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people in the workplace. McGee noted, “The Equality Act was designed to be much harder to pass than ENDA, and therefore guaranteed to be a money-magnet for several election cycles to come.” [37]

Other Issues

Other policies currently supported by the HRC include: [38]

  • Creating a path to citizenship for undocumented “Dreamer” immigrants
  • Requiring faith-based adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples
  • Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act
  • Banning anti-LGBT foreign nationals from entry to the United States
  • Expanding regulations and restrictions on the right of Americans to possess and use firearms
  • Federal paid sick leave legislation
  • Federal funding of sex education with pro-LGBT content
  • Federal anti-school bullying legislation
  • Criminalization of programs purporting to treat or cure same-sex attraction

Allowing transgender service in the military

  • Federal funding of college anti-harassment programs
  • Limitations on states’ ability to fight election fraud and protect the integrity of their elections

Congressional Scorecard

HRC publishes an annual “Congressional Scorecard” that ranks members of Congress on their votes on legislation, going beyond LGBT-focused policy issues to include high-profile Democratic legislative priorities. [39] For example, in 2019, Senators received negative ratings for voting against a path to citizenship for undocumented DACA “Dreamer” immigrants, in favor of Obamacare repeal, or to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. [40]

Political Activities

For more information on HRC’s support of candidates and organizations, see HRC PAC and HRC Equality Votes.

The HRC’s political activities heavily support Democratic candidates and party institutions, and its leadership are deeply connected to Democratic candidates and elected officials. [41] In the first year of the Obama administration in 2009, Secret Service logs reportedly showed 88 visits by HRC leadership team members to the White House, an average of one every four days. [42]

In 2009, HRC president Joe Solmonese was widely criticized for an email to supporters who were displeased with Obama’s failure to follow through on his LGBT-related campaign promises.  “It’s not January 19, 2017,” Solmonese wrote, suggesting that activists should wait until the end of Obama’s second term to judge his actions. [43] [44] Solmonese would not be at the HRC in 2017, having left to co-chair Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. In 2019, he was named CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention Committee. [45]

2018 Midterm Elections

Before the 2018 federal midterm elections, HRC announced the launch of an “offensive against the Trump-Pence agenda” and the largest expansion of grassroots organizing in its history. [46] Working with left-of-center data firm Catalist, HRC developed an “equality voter” model of a claimed 52 million non-LGBT voters whom HRC considered to be open to liberal pro-LGBT messaging. [47] Focusing heavily on Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, HRC said it would spend $26 million on voter identification and turnout, heavily favoring Democratic candidates and opposing Republicans. [48] [49]

Controversies

Support for Andrew Cuomo

In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign drew criticism from far-left activists for endorsing New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, for re-election over his challenger, Cynthia Nixon, who was an LGBTQ woman. In response to the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement of Cuomo, Allen Roskoff, president of the left-wing Owles Liberal Democratic Club which supported Nixon, said “The Human Rights Campaign has been more interested in their real estate, high salaries, and hobnobbing with middle-of-the-road Democrats — while, in many cases, thumbing their nose at labor and other civil rights groups.” [50]

In February 2020, Governor Cuomo was invited to speak at the annual Human Rights Campaign Gala, where Human Rights Campaign president, Alphonso David, introduced Governor Cuomo by saying “It is my pleasure to introduce the state’s greatest advocate for the LGBTQ community, and my dear friend … Andrew Cuomo.” [51]

In September 2020, Governor Cuomo was again invited to speak at the Human Rights Campaign’s “Unite for Equality Live” online event. [52] Alphonso David once again introduced Cuomo, saying “When you look up leadership in the dictionary, you will find the name and the picture of [Andrew Cuomo].” David then went on to say “Governor Andrew Cuomo has helped New Yorkers and Americans protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19 when the federal government simply failed to act. He defined the narrative, developed solutions and achieved results.” [53]

It was later revealed that Governor Cuomo’s administration had issued orders forcing nursing homes to accept patients with COVID-19, and intentionally under-reported New York’s staggering nursing home death tolls in order to cover up the consequences of Governor Cuomo’s policy. [54]

Alphonso David’s Involvement in the Cover-up of Sexual Harassment Allegations.

In August 2021, it was revealed that Human Rights Campaign Foundation president, Alphonso David, had aided Governor Andrew Cuomo in suppressing credible allegations of sexual misconduct and attempting to silence alleged victims. [55] The Washington Free Beacon reported that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo revealed that David, who was formerly a legal advisor to Cuomo, had secretly provided Cuomo’s lieutenants with a personnel file on Lindsey Boylan, Governor Cuomo’s first accuser. The file, which was labeled “confidential,” contained the details of complaints against Boylan and records of a dispute with another staff member in the Governor’s office, during which David was Boylan’s counsel. [56]

Governor Cuomo’s lieutenants sent the file to several news outlets in an attempt to discredit Boylan. After sharing the confidential files, David continued to be involved in the smear campaign against Boylan. The investigation showed that David helped Cuomo’s aides write an op-ed, which was ultimately never published, that was intended to further damage Boylan’s reputation. The New York Attorney General’s office concluded that, alongside the release of Boylan’s files, the drafted op-ed constituted retaliation, a violation of employment law. [57]

The Attorney General’s investigation also revealed that David had participated in discussions about secretly recording another woman who had also accused Cuomo of touching her inappropriately. [58]

On the Human Rights Campaign website, a resource guide for sexual assault survivors says, “If someone discloses to you that they have been sexually assaulted, remember to believe them, reassure them that it wasn’t their fault, keep their disclosure confidential (unless the situation requires mandatory reporting), and never pressure them for more information than they want to share.” [59]

On September 6, 2021, the Human Rights Campaign announced that the board of directors had voted to fire David for violations of the HRC’s conflict of interest policy and for his actions which were averse to the HRC’s mission. [60] [61] David publicly denounced the decision, claiming that the HRC internal investigation was unfairly conducted, and that the HRC board had asked for his resignation before the investigation was complete. [62] The HRC issued a press release which claimed that David’s statement “included significant untruths about the investigation and his status with the organization.” [63]

HRC’s chief operating officer, Joni Madison, was promoted to interim president of the foundation while the board of directors searched for a new president. [64]

Revisionist History

A 2014 book by New York Times reporter Jo Becker portrayed former Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin as the “Rosa Parks” of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage for his role in legal challenges against California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage. [65] Journalists, LGBT activists, and legal experts roundly criticized Becker and Griffin for the HRC-supported “publicity campaign,” which was widely perceived to be an effort to build Griffin and HRC’s perceived role in the legalization of same-sex marriage at the cost of others whose contributions went back many decades further or had more impact. [66] [67] [68]

Blogger and gay activist Andrew Sullivan, who had been active in writing in favor of same-sex marriage since the 1980s, called Becker’s book and Griffin’s effort to rewrite history, “truly toxic and morally repellent…unconscionable, ignorant and profoundly wrong,” and said it was “ an attack on the very movement HRC purports to lead.” [69] [70]HRC was widely criticized by LGBT activists, service members and veterans for failing to pressure the Obama administration to fulfill its campaign promise to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy governing LGBT service in the military early in his term. In an American Prospect article criticizing HRC’s later efforts to claim responsibility for DADT repeal, Gabriel Arana wrote, “The HRC deserves some credit for helping move public opinion in favor of gay rights for the past 30 years, but it’s been much less successful in convincing legislators to do anything more than have cocktails with them in the short term.” [71]

An open letter from LGBT veterans active in the DADT repeal effort called the HRC’s actions during this time, which included criticizing a DADT repeal activist who sought a meeting with Obama White House official Valerie Jarrett “alienating and insulting to the entire LGBT military and veteran community.” [72]

Failure to Represent All LGBT Interests

Many LGBT activists and allies on both left and right criticize Human Rights Campaign for failing to represent the interests of all LGBT persons. [73] [74] As editor of the far-left journal Current Affairs Nathan J. Robinson writes, “The Human Rights Campaign’s betrayal of its ostensible constituents has been going on for a long time… This organization has no credibility to speak for the groups it claims to represent. It is actively harming their interests and has been for a long time.” Human Rights Campaign had endorsed incumbent U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) in a primary election against left-wing candidate Kerri Harris, whom Robinson identified as a “queer woman of color.” [75]

An internal examination of the group by the Pipeline Project found that Human Rights Campaign staff criticized the group for being a “White Men’s Club.” The report also found that substantial blocs of HRC’s ethnic minority and gender-nonconforming staff reported feeling that “they are not treated equally based on their identity.” [76]

Other left-wing activists have criticized Human Rights Campaign for focusing its advocacy on certain demographics. One wrote that the group “has long been criticized by queer activists as the embodiment of ‘Big Gay’ politics, marginalizing the interests of trans folks and people of color in favor of issues that favor rich, white gay men,” [77]  and another claimed, “HRC’s message is that the LGBT inequality in the U.S. only impacts middle to upper class white couples.” [78]

Human Rights Campaign’s left-leaning and pro-Democratic Party bias leads it to oppose Republican candidates and politicians by default, even when those officials are implementing policies that benefit LGBT constituencies. “[A]n organization as prominent as the Human Rights Campaign that is committed to defying anti-LGBT actions should also be committed to praising pro-LGBT action” by a Republican administration, said conservative LGBT activist and Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory Angelo. “But I’m seeing no such promises from the Human Rights Campaign or any other LGBT advocacy organization on the gay left.” [79]

In 2008, HRC faced broad criticism from LGBT activists and supporters for being the only LGBT advocacy organization to continue supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) after provisions relating to transgender employees were removed by bill sponsor Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to attract additional votes in the House. [80] [81] This decision proved controversial and led to ongoing conflict between HRC and transgender activists. [82]

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: March - February
  • Tax Exemption Received: March 1, 1991

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2018 Mar Form 990 $45,636,641 $43,167,397 $19,710,097 $6,130,462 Y $36,428,834 $450,000 $67,738 $3,124,471 PDF
    2017 Mar Form 990 $41,701,818 $39,428,413 $16,197,772 $5,077,780 Y $33,340,867 $435,000 $47,303 $2,346,783
    2016 Mar Form 990 $36,406,084 $37,334,012 $13,384,278 $4,548,739 Y $28,477,038 $422,500 $49,501 $1,428,623 PDF
    2015 Mar Form 990 $37,406,706 $38,284,253 $15,981,681 $6,233,816 Y $28,766,195 $415,000 $33,782 $1,584,653 PDF
    2014 Mar Form 990 $38,538,422 $35,393,692 $16,049,078 $5,417,873 Y $28,340,053 $330,000 $24,980 $1,702,081 PDF
    2013 Mar Form 990 $36,537,048 $37,402,984 $11,810,415 $4,319,830 Y $28,939,547 $325,000 $17,413 $1,714,558 PDF
    2012 Mar Form 990 $32,609,559 $32,002,730 $11,703,270 $3,334,009 Y $25,479,071 $350,000 $26,972 $1,202,290 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Human Rights Campaign

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