December 5, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
EXCLUSIVE: National Stonewall Democrats faces $30,000 budget gap

National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jerame Davis (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade has obtained an e-mail that indicates National Stonewall Democrats will likely shut down if it does not close a $30,000 budget gap by Dec. 31.

“It’s no secret that we’ve struggled with fundraising over the past few years, but today we are at a crossroads and we’re turning to you – our members and supporters,” wrote Jerame Davis, the group’s executive director, in an e-mail he will send to his organization’s e-mail list later on Wednesday. “As the year closes, we’re facing a budget deficit of over $30,000 and if we do not bridge this gap, we will likely be forced to close our doors.”

Davis told the Blade in an exclusive interview on Tuesday night the National Stonewall Democrats’ 2012 budget is between $130,000-$140,000. This figure includes up to $40,000 in organizational debt he inherited when he became executive director in Dec. 2011.

Internal Revenue Service documents indicate the organization reported $223,202 in revenue, while spending $253,133 (a deficit of $19,931) in 2011. These figures were $305,745 and $328,803 (a deficit of $23,058) in 2010 and $346,679 and $425,927 (a deficit of $79,248) in 2009 respectively.

Davis said fundraising picked up “quite a bit” at the beginning of the year – an April fundraiser in D.C. that honored gay Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who founded National Stonewall Democrats in 1998, raised nearly $70,000. Davis said the organization was debt-free by the end of July, but it spent roughly $20,000 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September.

“In doing so we kind of depleted our reserves hoping that we would come out the other side with some fundraising momentum out of that,” he said. “Instead, quite the opposite happened. The campaigns started heating up so a lot of the fundraising started shifting towards President Obama and towards Tammy Baldwin and we took a hit fast and having no reserves coming out of the convention it kind of snowballed to where we are now.”

Organization received anonymous $100,000 donation in 2011

This is not the first time National Stonewall Democrats’ financial problems have threatened to shutter the organization.

The Blade reported in Feb. 2011 that an anonymous donor gave $100,000 to National Stonewall Democrats amid reports then-Executive Director Michael Mitchell did not effectively manage the group’s budget. Davis said the organization was “kind of back in the same boat when I took over” in Nov. 2011 after Mitchell stepped down.

“When I took over the organization, there was $1,800 in the bank and a boat load of debt,” he said. “We were facing eviction from our office; I mean there were all kinds of problems that I had to tackle. I had payroll to make two weeks after I took over and $1,800 in the bank and no donors and that was in November last year, the worst time for a 501c4 to be fundraising.”

Davis noted 2008 was his organization’s best year in terms of fundraising when its budget nearly topped $700,000. IRS records indicate National Stonewall Democrats reported $465,391 in revenue and $435,946 in expenses that year.

A changing political landscape, however, began to take its toll.

“We didn’t adapt to that, especially with the election of President Obama in 2008,” said Davis.

Melissa Sklarz, who co-chaired National Stonewall Democrats Board of Directors from 2009 through early 2011, noted then-President Bill Clinton had signed the ban on openly gay servicemembers and the Defense of Marriage Act into law in the years before Frank created the organization.

“It’s a very different Democratic party,” she told the Blade. “It’s a very different America. So maybe people feel they don’t need to go through national Stonewall. It’s mostly internal.”

The departure of Mitchell and two other executive directors before him has also had an adverse impact on the organization’s ability to raise money.

“That’s a big part of the problem, that kind of turnover, but also decisions that were made in that time, directions the organization took for its messaging, the directions that our programs took, some of them lost their bang so to speak,” said Davis. “We didn’t develop a lot of new programs that appeal to folks. Our fundraising took a hit as a result.”

The latest revelation about National Stonewall Democrats’ uncertain future comes less than a month after Obama, who endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples in May, won re-election. Wisconsin Congressman Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay U.S. senator-elect; while gay U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) won re-election. Voters in New York, California, Wisconsin and Arizona also elected openly gay and bisexual congressional candidates.

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in D.C., the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club and the Barbara Gittings Delaware Stonewall Democrats are three of the more than 80 chapters and affiliates throughout the country.

Davis, who has remained National Stonewall Democrats’ only full-time staffer since shortly after he became the group’s executive director, said expenses have been cut to about $10,000 a month. He stressed his organization remains relevant.

“There are a number of state and local Democratic parties that aren’t on board with LGBT equality,” said Davis. “Some of whom are still outwardly hostile in some of the red states and more conservative states. And in a lot of ways its those areas where LGBT equality really hasn’t caught on; the places like Indiana, the places like Alabama, the places like Kentucky. That’s where we really need to do the work because they’re the ones holding us back. It’s the lack of a strong Democratic party, the lack of a strong pro-LGBT party that even the Democrats who are elected from these areas aren’t necessarily fully on board with full LGBT equality.”

He added grassroots organizing among Democrats in the aforementioned states is one of the many ways where “we excel.”

“Our clubs and our affiliates they have special relationships with their local elected leaders because they’re the ones that are out there knocking on doors and raising money and stuffing envelopes and making phone calls for these candidates,” said Davis. “On a national level we have to help coordinate that work, we have to help expand.”

National Stonewall Democrats Board Co-Chair Stephen Driscoll agreed.

“The stuff we do is grassroots, our mission has always been to make the Democratic Party better on our issues,” he said, while acknowledging what he described as ineffective organizational leadership before Davis’ tenure as a contributing factor to National Stonewall Democrats’ current financial situation. “There is no question that we have done that, especially in the national party and in many state orgs around the country we still have a lot of work to do in those diminishing number of states that are less than supportive on LGBT issues.”

“There’s still lots of work to be done in the national legislative arena,” added Sklarz. “National Stonewall is the perfect organization for that. HRC [the Human Rights Campaign] has its niche and Victory Fund has theirs and national Stonewall’s is to elect pro-equality Democrats. And there are lots of places, there is lots of room.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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