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ACLU loses its biggest donor: $19 million a year

/ Source: The Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union has lost a quarter of its yearly donations after a major donor cut off $19 million in annual donations because of economic difficulties.

David Gelbaum, a wealthy California conservationist, said he was indefinitely stopping the donations that had made him the New York-based group's largest anonymous donor.

"For a number of years, your organization has received very substantial charitable contributions from me," Gelbaum said in a statement. "My investments in alternative, clean energy companies have placed me in a highly illiquid position as a result of the general credit crisis in the American and world financial systems."

Gelbaum also announced he was halting some $12 million in yearly gifts to the Sierra Club Foundation and about $50 million a year that he's been giving to an organization serving veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gelbaum has given a total of $389 million to the groups from 2005 to 2009.

Gelbaum says he hopes others will step forward and replace his donations.

The New York Times named Gelbaum in a story published in the newspaper Wednesday. Gelbaum had previously funded those organizations anonymously.

"While we're clearly disappointed that his desire to remain anonymous was breached, we remain eternally grateful for everything he and his family have done to advance the cause of civil liberties for all Americans," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said.

Romero also called Gelbaum an American hero, "an unassuming man with a spectacularly generous spirit."

Donation gap
The ACLU is attempting to fill the revenue gap with funds from other donors, and over the past two months has raised a total of $23 million, spread over the next three years. The organization "will need to consider a number of budget reductions as well as the possibility of drawing down from our reserve funds if necessary," John Kennedy, a spokesman for Romero, said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Gelbaum's donation to the Sierra Club Foundation was earmarked for outdoor programs for military families, including a popular summer camp program for children of deployed veterans.

"That program will not be impacted in 2010, and then we'll have a year to figure it out," said Sierra Club national spokesman David Willett. "Obviously, we'll be looking for additional donations."

Gelbaum, a native of Minnesota, made his fortune working for hedge funds, where he used mathematical formulas to pick stocks and bonds.

He runs an investment firm called Quercus Trust, based in Newport Beach, Calif.