ACLU Is Seeing a Trump-Era Surge in Members and Donations


The nearly century-old American Civil Liberties Union says it is suddenly awash in donations and new members as it does battle with President Donald Trump over the extent of his constitutional authority, with nearly $80 million in online contributions alone pouring in since the election.

That includes a record $24 million surge over two days after Mr. Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The organization said its membership has more than doubled since the election to a record of nearly 1.2 million, and its Twitter following has tripled.

“It feels like we’re drinking from a fire hydrant,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, adding that the election has brought immigration, refugee, reproductive, civil and voting rights “to a high boil.”

“What’s really heartening is people are paying attention. They’re aware of the crisis on the horizon,” he said. “There’s a real sense of urgency.”

After Mr.Trump’s election, the ACLU greeted the age of Pres. Trump on its website and magazine with a fresh slogan: “See you in court.” That was the same expression Mr. Trump used in his tweeted response to a federal appeals court’s decision refusing to reinstate the travel ban.

The ACLU has won court orders in New York, Massachusetts and Maryland against the president’s travel ban. It has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on the billionaire’s potential conflicts of interest. And it intends to bring a legal challenge accusing him of violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by accepting payments from foreign governments at his hotels and other properties.

Mr. Trump has defended the travel ban as critical to keeping America safe, saying terrorists could otherwise slip into the country. He predicted the courts will eventually find his order constitutional. Also, Mr. Trump’s business empire has said it will donate profits from any foreign governments that use his hotels.

The ACLU said it has raised $79 million online from nearly one million individuals since the election. It had no immediate figures for contributions made by other means.

The boost to the ACLU’s $220 million budget will allow it to spend more on its state operations, which Romero said became critical after some legislatures took Trump’s election as a license to promote anti-immigrant, anti-civil rights and other legislation.

The 1,150-employee ACLU also plans to hire more lawyers and staff in New York and Washington and spend $13 million more on citizen engagement, including protests and lobbying. That is a new front for an organization that has primarily been a policy and legal group.

Esha Bhandari, an ACLU attorney in New York, said the public’s reaction lately is encouraging to those who gave up bigger salaries to work for the nonprofit organization.

“This is why we’re here,” said the Columbia Law School graduate. “The importance comes into sharp relief. We exist for moments like this. Lives are on the line.”