to Feminists About NOW
Since 2008, when the current national board of directors for the National Organization of Women was elected by only 8 votes, following a scorched earth campaign by the current officers, troubling news keeps leaking out of Washington, D.C., where national NOW has its headquarter offices. At first, the problem was that there was no news. The transparency of former administrations in keeping the grassroots membership informed of executive decisions ceased. Access to the board meetings was restricted. Dues rebates, the heart blood of the local chapters’ ability to maintain a presence, were cut off. Rumors circulated about illegal (or at least bylaw violative) financial accounting instituted by this national board.
Remember when Shelly Mandell introduced Sarah Palin in Los Angeles, calling herself “president of LA NOW” even though she had been forcibly dismissed some years earlier? Remember the Harpers (October 2010) article by Susan Faludi about the improper financial shenanigans at the national NOW level? Well, this is worse.
CA NOW has held numerous discussions among its members how to respond to the issues raised. In the beginning, we felt it better to continue the positive messages and actions we are known for, without airing our “dirty linen,” so to speak. With each revelation, however, came the realization that we can’t continue to maintain that silence when it comes to the underlying reason we belong to NOW.
The perception by state level organizations of NOW and many chapters (including our own) was that the national NOW had been subverted by a dedicated tight-knit group of anti-woman, probably anti-feminist, women committed to the goal of ruining the integrity of NOW in the public’s eye and thus, neutralizing all the years of advocacy on behalf of women and girls.
NOW members believe that every human being is born free, equal in dignity and rights, and we fight every day to ensure that our government reflects this fundamental value. We work for reproductive justice, including full access to abortion and maternity care, for equal pay for equal work, for a living wage, a sustainable environment and a world free from violence — to name a few. The National Organization for Women is, has always been and will remain a progressive women’s rights organization. It’s what the members have reiterated through every annual conference, as well as every action taken by the body, since its founding in 1966.
In June this year, CA NOW became the latest target for the cabal. There are many reasons why CA NOW has been targeted. We forced national NOW to acknowledge that Mandell was not president of LA NOW and to hold an election; we complained about the lack of dues rebates in a specially called meeting, which has caused the national organization to resume sending checks. Perhaps our defense of NOW alarmed the increasingly conservative national board, who sought to replace the long-standing infrastructure of CA NOW with a known right-wing anti-woman lobbyist, as the “official” contact in the state for NOW Foundation Inc.
What follows is the detail, as provided by web searches. It is just as we feared. We are calling on the national board to purge itself, investigate the actions and take corrective measures to protect the organization.
First, CA NOW received a request from the executive vice president of National NOW in June requesting it agree to Maureen Otis as our state contact. National NOW had been unable to register in California due to a name conflict with CA NOW. Attached to the request was the letter from the Secretary of State rejecting the registration, addressed to the Law Office of Maureen E. Otis in Texas. We were confused because NOW has been registered in California for many years so this appeared to be a new registration, which didn’t make sense.
Obviously, CA NOW never gave permission to file for this new registration to do business in California because National NOW and the Foundation are already registered in the state. Despite already being registered, the California Secretary of State accepted the new filing with Maureen E. Otis’ name, contact information in Texas, and Melvin D. Green as the agent for process, with an address listed as 5466 Santa Monica Blvd. #106, Los Angeles, CA 90029. This National Organization for Women’s agent for service of process is a Dollar Discount Store. A people search fails to connect Melvin D. Green to the address above, and the only Melvin D. Green found in the Los Angeles area is deceased. A California Secretary of State website search shows Melvin D. Green’s name on a suspended corporation C0850195 filed and suspended in 1977 named NOW Incorporated with the same address sans the suite number. This search may explain where the name came from, but not why service for process for the National Organization for Women Foundation would be a Dollar Discount Store.
Since the letter from the Secretary of State to Maureen E. Otis in Texas was troubling to us, we began our research on Maureen E. Otis. What we discovered from a simple Google search on Maureen E. Otis is disturbing. We discovered that she is the acting secretary of Freedom Watch, a Minuteman group out of Texas as well as being legal counsel for the Franklin Center, both of which have ties to the Koch brothers. Maureen E. Otis operates her law office out of an organization she leads called “American Caging” where she has established charities for the Impeach Obama Foundation, Club for Growth, Alliance for Marriage Foundation, Border Fence Project, American Conservative Union Foundation, American Patriots for Conservative Action, Committee for Justice, Common Good, Leadership Institute, OUR America Initiative, the Minutemen Project and countless more right-wing organizations. Her own website (American Caging) lists such clients as the Declaration Alliance, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, and the Traditional Values Coalition. The Declaration Alliance runs a petition on their website to disbar and impeach Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
If that wasn’t bad enough, we were left speechless to discover that Maureen E. Otis also works for the Terry Family Trust whose purpose to is help Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, to recover from legal victories won by NOW and others.
As a side note, but related, a search on the Secretary of State’s website using NOW and National Organization for Women revealed that the conservative San Rafael law firm Nielsen Merksamer filed incorporation papers on June 20, 2011 for a “new” California NOW non-profit, with the purpose “to promote healthy public debate over the critical issues facing California, advance meaningful reform and hold public officials accountable.” Merksamer represents the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of primarily conservative members of state legislatures, and the Free Enterprise Coalition, a conservative organization. We take note of this new non-profit corporation using our brand because this occurred at or near the time that Otis was hired. Whether these are independent acts to corrupt the NOW brand or acts in concert is of no matter. The issue remains – the corruption of the NOW brand with right wing associations.
We do not know why the executive officers of the National Organization for Women, apparently without notice or consent of the National NOW board, or of the grass roots members, chose to associate with or hire Maureen E. Otis. However, the organizations Ms. Otis represents and personally associates with have nothing in common with the values of NOW members.
California NOW members, through California NOW, have no control over the National Organization or Women (NOW), the use of its trademark or the National Organization for Women Foundation and its trademark. That responsibility primarily resides with the National Organization or Women Board of Directors. It isn’t hard to see the advantage to the right wing if they can control the NOW logo. Our logo has become a trusted symbol of initiatives and candidates who support women. We must act decisively in order for that symbol to retain its meaning.
The National NOW Board must be proactive in dealing with this issue by being out front of the story through honest, forthright action. By taking control and removing the Executive Officers now associated with Otis, NOW, the institution, and the brand has a chance to survive this travesty.
For almost half a century, the National Organization for Women has stood for women and girls, with members and donors contributing knowing that their money was going to a progressive feminist organization that is fighting for the rights of women and girls in this country. To hire a person tied to the Koch brothers with a right-wing agenda such as Ms. Otis is a slap in the face to our members and cannot be tolerated.
The Executive Officers’ hiring and associating NOW with Ms. Otis is an outrage. We call on the National Board to act immediately to sever the employment/contractual relationship with Ms. Otis and conduct a full and independent investigation to determine the extent of the relationship, contact, exchange of information and/or documents with and/or between NOW, officers, staff, and others, preventing any and all destruction of evidence by supervising access to the office.
An independent forensic accounting must also be conducted to determine whether the integrity of NOW as an institution has been compromised by the national Executive Officers’ acts.
Should these investigations provide credible evidence that improper actions were taken by the Executive Officers, we call for them to be removed from their positions for acts harming the reputation and purpose of the National Organization for Women and the National Organization for Women Foundation.
Needless to say, this deceptively named non-profit corporation would have grave consequences as we head into the 2012 election, including the numerous initiatives on the ballot. Every woman across this country needs to be warned about plots to deceive feminist voters. Search your Secretary of State and Attorney General websites to see if a “new” corporation has been created using your organization’s trademark.
It is a sad day when progressive feminist organizations have to be so distrustful of their own leadership to question their loyalties. But, without the inadvertent inclusion of a letter from a neutral third party of the subversion of the NOW “brand,” CA NOW would not have known these acts had taken place. Forewarned is forearmed.