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ACLU weighing program cuts as largest anonymous donor reduces contribution

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] announced Wednesday that its largest anonymous donor will be sharply cutting donations next year [press release] in light of the current economic crisis. The ACLU released a statement [text, PDF] from philanthropist David Gelbaum in which he publicly identified himself and explained that his "investments in alternative, clean energy companies have placed [him] in a highly illiquid position as a result of the general credit crisis in the American and world financial systems." Gelbaum donated $94 million to the ACLU between 2005, and 2009, including his most recent gift of more than $20 million, approximately 25 percent of the ACLU's annual budget. Gelbaum will also be reducing donations to the Sierra Club and the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund [advocacy websites]. Gelbaum said that "[t]he future viability of these programs will depend on the generosity of others." Although several other organizations have already pledged funds [NYT report] to the ACLU, it is unclear how great the budget shortfall will be and what programs will have to be cut.

The ACLU's budget has already suffered due to a decline in giving resulting from the Bernard Madoff [JURIST news archive] scandal. The ACLU has been forced to cut 10 percent of its national staff, or 36 jobs, and Executive Director Anthony Romero has taken a pay cut. The organization has also instituted a hiring freeze. The ACLU, founded in 1920, describes itself as "our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country."

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