Thursday, December 3, 2009

Courage Campaign Founder Rick Jacobs Responds to UTF With Answers Surrounding Marriage Equality Research

Tuesday, I wrote a post titled, "Courage Campaign Not to Release Marriage Equality Research - Information Behind Project Could Help Mend Broken Trust." In it I wrote that to regain some of the trust lost among the LGBT grassroots community when they pulled out of the 2010 Prop 8 repeal effort, Courage Campaign should answer some questions about how the partially community-funded research was conducted, such as who was behind it, how much of the raised money was spent and in what capacity, what demographics made up the focus groups, and more.

Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs agreed to answer the questions and sent me the following response.

First, thanks for your consistently sober, careful and thoughtful reporting and insight of and into the LGBT equality movement. You are one of the best examples of the new generation of activists that has arisen post-Prop. 8. In that vein, it’s important to note that the atmosphere and the attitude since the campaign have changed radically. On the one hand, there is less trust than before and that is both good and bad. The good of it is that activists question authority, doing their own diligence and making their own decisions about where to put their energy, effort and donations. The bad of it is that a very few spend time looking for what is wrong and picking it apart without looking for or at the solutions.

The LGBT community is nearing the end phases of the struggle for equality. Whether via the judiciary, state and federal legislation or the ballot box, we are making major strides. The ballot box has been the most disappointing and therefore gets the most attention, but we need to remember that if two candidates had come as close as they did in Maine or California, the loser would be gearing up to take on the winner as soon as possible. And there’s the rub. We are not in a candidate fight. We have a disparate movement with lots of voices, all of which are valid, but not all of which can ultimately and equally run a campaign. It just won’t work. In a candidate race, the candidate ultimately decides. In our community, there is no trusted leader, no trusted organization that can say, “follow us. We have the solution.” And frankly, no one yet does.

Over time, that will settle out. Either folks will realize that to win, we need the best of what Obama had, namely the best research possible (which is expensive), the best campaign talent possible (which is hard to find) and highly motivated and integrated grassroots movement that has input and will work to win. And with any good fortune at all, the Olson/Boies lawsuit will obviate all future such electoral battles. We cannot count on that and we must change the way people this country think about LGBT people regardless of legal, legislative or ballot box decisions. The gains of the civil rights movement in the 1960s did not eradicate prejudice; that still takes work to this day.

With that in mind, let me answer your questions.
1. We did a large series of focus groups, round tables, dyads and triads. The goal of the work was to get as broad and a diverse a view of potential swing voters as possible. To that end, we were in San Diego, Riverside, Fresno, LA and Concord. We did round tables with Asian-American, African-American, Latino groups. Our focus groups included all of the above and white folks. We worked with men and women. One conclusion we drew at the end of the focus groups was that we needed to do more qualitative work to go deeper on the issues of religion and education. A poll didn’t make sense at this time. More qualitative work should be done first.

2. Courage members rose to the challenge of funding the only serious research that has been done on this issue since before the campaign. We challenged our members in August to raise $100,000 for research. We said that if we could raise that $100,000, we would ask other groups interested in winning back our rights to match that amount. The only contribution we received from a group was $3,700 from the IAG, which we deeply appreciate. Not one other group put up a penny. By rights, we could have either offered our members a refund and stopped or go ahead. We decided to take the risk and go ahead. To date, we have spent far in excess of $200,000, frankly more than we have raised by a long shot. We did that because we owed our members and the community the real research that had not been done.

3. We assembled the best team we could find. It includes David Binder, Amy Simon, Dean Tipps (former head of SEIU State Council and later an Obama Campaign advisor), Dr. Phyllis Watts (who created the road map by which Planned Parenthood and other allied organizations have thus far defeated parental notification around the country and three times in four years in California). The team was led by Steve Hildebrand with Sarah Callahan and other Courage staff engaged in the process. Dean Tipps has more than thirty years of experience in California policy and politics. He built the SEIU in California from 150,000 to 750,000 members and has been through virtually every major initiative fight in the state. The community knows David and Amy.

4. We will not release the findings of this first round to the press because it would be equivalent, as you point out, to handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars of research to the opposition. Interestingly, the Yes on 8 crew is in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals right now trying to prevent handing over their internal communications because they believe those communications have some value and would be useful to our side. Why would we willingly hand over our research? Had the Obama Campaign, the most data-driven campaign in history, publicized all of its research, John McCain would be president today. We will share relevant data confidentially with allied LGBT and progressive groups over the next two weeks.

5. Keep in mind that Courage is an organization. We are not a campaign. We have always said that we do not think any one organization should dominate the next campaign. And we’ve been consistent in repeating and sticking to our principles that dictate when we would go back to the ballot. They include: research that informs a path to victory; a governance structure that the progressive and LGBT communities trust; a highly experienced, successful campaign manager who is empowered by that governance structure to make decisions; enough money to win. We concluded that those elements are not in place. And your post underscores that they are not in place.

6. We continue to operate a robust, all volunteer field campaign with teams in 23 counties. This is all done under the leadership of 33 volunteer Deputy Field Organizers and four full time staff. We continue our highly successful Camp Courage program, which has trained over 1,400 people since January of this year. Our next Camp is scheduled for 30-31 January in Santa Barbara. We have requests for Camps Courage from at least five other states. Pending funding and targeting, we’ll take the Camps beyond California as we did at the request of Cleve Jones, Kip Williams and Robin McGehee for the National Equality March.

7. Courage Campaign continues our national work in states such as New York, where we recently mobilized our more than 50,000 members to call their state senators in advance of the marriage vote and just did so again this morning. (See email below.) We are working other states as well, in cooperation with local organizers.

(Click email image to enlarge)

8. Courage will play a major role in trying to ameliorate the California budget disaster in 2010 and in setting a course for transforming the way this state functions over a longer horizon. We face a potential $40 billion budget deficit next year that dwarfs the one that cut nearly all services in 2009. If you thought this year was bad, buckle your seat belts; it’s about to get more than bumpy. LGBT and progressive folks are greatly affected by what’s going to happen here. The right wing is getting its wish: state and local governments that are completely starved of funds and therefore incapable of caring for those who most need government in this time of economic crisis. And look at what happened with our former crown jewel, the higher education system. Students virtually rioted because of 300% increases in tuition in a ten year period. We cannot go on that way. The LGBT movement needs to look after itself, but it had damn well better look after this state and other progressive imperatives or we’ll have nothing left. While we are having this discussion about research, the nation is gripped in debate about Afghanistan, healthcare and soon the environment. We have to look out for ourselves, but we are not only for ourselves. If we are, as Hillel said, who are we? And if we are, as any vote-counter would say, how can we win?

After Rick's initial response, I had a couple more questions which he answered.
1. Is the Courage Campaign being "secretive"?

Not at all. We are willing to disclose the basic nature of our work without giving away the details of this robust research, our methodology or thought process to the opposition. As campaign professionals across the spectrum would agree, it is not in the best interest of the LGBT movement to conduct this research in public; otherwise, there’s really no point in doing it.

As to the basic nature of our research, to repeat, we did a large series of focus groups, round tables, dyads and triads. The goal of the work was to get as broad and as diverse a view of potential swing voters as possible. To that end, we were in San Diego, Riverside, Fresno, LA and Concord. We did round tables with Asian-American, African-American, Latino groups. Our focus groups included all of the above and white folks. We worked with men and women. One conclusion we drew at the end of the focus groups was that we needed to do more qualitative work to go deeper on the issues of religion and education. A poll didn’t make sense at this time. More qualitative work should be done first.

2. Will the Courage Campaign focus group research be out-of-date by the time the LGBT community returns to the ballot box?

We conducted focus groups in order to get the best sense of what specific issues roadblock marriage equality, how deeply ingrained perceptions are on the issue, and what sort of messaging works best to address those issues. The results of our focus groups will inform the future polling done by us and other marriage equality advocates, and will be a cornerstone of a political strategy. So, unlike survey data, this focus group research is not out of date and won’t be because it is a fundamental building block for the next phases of research and for our current work.
Reporter Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV also had a chance to speak to Steve Hildebrand, who worked closely with the Courage Campaign on the research. You can see what he had to say on her blog.

Image by Marta Evry of Venice for Change.


  1. What I find disturbing about Jacobs's comments is his suggestion that given Afghanistan, health care, and California's budget woes, we'd better just wait for marriage equality. Once again, we are told that gay rights are not as important as other issues. That is the problem with coalition politics as they are played out in the Democratic Party. I for one have had enough. I will donate money to no candidate, no Party, no "umbrella organization," and no issue organization except those that are specifically committed to achieving equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

  2. I appreciate Rick taking the time to explain what Courage has been up to. I'm a little tired of all the amateur-hour armchair quarterbacks out there right now. Rick didn't say to wait for anything...he said that there are a lot of issues and we need to be involved in and aware of them all. We're not trying to get our rights in a vacuum. Thanks to UTF for continuing to provide balanced coverage for our community.

  3. Jay:

    I don't think that's what Rick is saying at all. CC's reasons for not going forward in 2010 have nothing to do with the issues he mentioned in #8, they decided not to move forward for others reasons that have been detailed in previous posts here. He's just saying that those are some of the other issues they'll be working on on 2010. As far as I know, CC has never been a single issue organization, so it makes sense that they would be working on those issues. I suspect they would have been working on those issues even if they had decided to go forward in 2010.

  4. Rick Jacobs, FUCK YOU! Take your place in line with other queers who are more interested in fundraising and bullshitting than actually leading a movement for equality. Rick Jacobs, GIVE ME MY FUCKING MONEY BACK, YOU COWARD!

  5. I'm tired of queers like Rick Jacobs making a living off my lack of equal rights. FUCK YOU, RICK JACOBS. Fred Phelps and homophobes around the country thank you for standing up for them.

  6. Courage Campaign = No courage, ALL campaign. Demand your money back, sit in at their meetings and events, shut them the fuck DOWN. No more GayTMs. You are either with those of us fighting for equal rights or you are on the side of the gay bashers. Rick Jacobs is on the side of the gay bashers.

  7. Jacobs' responses are very reasonable.
    He is making public what he can and is sharing the more specific data with allied groups. He spent $200K, $100K which came out of CC's general coffers, and is not hording the results. I don't know why anyone would find this objectionable. It sounds like they did exactly what they said they would do. And all of this basic research is helpful and necessary. I can tell you that Frank Schubert does this sort of work for each campaign.

    The claim that CC is saying we should "wait" for equality is transparent BS. CC has made marriage equality one of its key issues. In the last few months, they sent substantial sums of money to Maine. The amounts pledged on ActBlue alone total $61,000, but the full total (including money directly transferred from CC and money sent by CC members directly and not through ActBlue) certainly exceed $100K. On top of that, CC sent a squad of volunteers to help and made use of its members to do remote phonebanking. It is pretty asinine to assert that CC wants to "wait" until all other problems are resolved.

    They concluded that we shouldn't have a vote in 2010, not that we should wait. We have several years' work to do; there is no waiting period. The vote is not the work; the vote is the culmination of the work.

    If the immature and obscene responses posted above are representative, then the opposition to CC's approach can be written off as juvenile.