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“Brady Center Ceases Operations”

Two years ago today, mock stories appeared in the April Fool’s Day edition of The Outdoor Wire, and one stuck out at me as more of a potential prediction than a joke:

Brady Center Ceases Operations
Blames SCOTUS for “dwindling finances and shrinking support”

Washington, D.C. – “We fought a hard fight, and lost. The people have spoken.” That’s the terse explanation offered up on the Brady Center’s website, announcing the dissolution of the longtime organization. An overwhelming majority decision (7-2) by the Supreme Court in 2008 that affirmed the individual right of firearms ownership led to a sweeping nationwide rejection of anti-firearms legislation and a precipitous decline in Brady Center financial support. As the Brady organization crumbled, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups saw memberships and coffers swell, allowing the NRA’s legislative action group to challenge and overturn what the NRA-ILA has described as “ridiculous” or “unenforceable” laws nationwide.

It’s possible that the only things wrong about this silly joke were the vote count (we won by 5-4), the Center closing shop before the Campaign, and the timing.

Looking at the Brady Campaign & Brady Center form 990s from 2004-2008, there is an unmistakable trend that may herald the real need to write the “joke” headline. Consider that the Brady Campaign – the legislative arm of the gun control organization – has seen donations drop off by more than 53% from 2004-2008. (The latest data available is from 2008, as 2009 tax documents are likely being filed now.) Total revenue that factors in revenue from assets and investments as well as the donations, is off slightly more – by more than 54% in the same time period. Unfortunately for them, the Brady Campaign has not been as successful at slashing expenses.

Brady Campaign Revenues & Expenses 2004-2008

All I can say is ouch. That’s gotta hurt in a big way. I’m going to assume that the leveling off of expenses means they have slashed as much as possible without cutting significant staff or consultants. Obviously, that will have to change. A drop like this can’t simply be blamed on the recession, especially since the drops started two years before the official start of the downturn. (I don’t have data prior to 2004, so the drop may have started long before then.)

But upon seeing this, I suggested to Sebastian that perhaps they were re-aligning and putting more staff onto the Brady Center’s payroll – that is, their foundation division. It’s amazing how changing a few words can make it so you’re no longer lobbying for change, but merely educating lawmakers about the issues. Yes, it’s perfectly legal. To find out, we opened up all of their 990s from the same period, 2004-2008.

Brady Center Revenues & Expenses 2004-2008

As you can see, they aren’t having much luck, either. Total revenue is down about $800K over 4 years, and expenses haven’t been consistently cut to match. The Center has been much better about keeping a nest egg of assets than the Campaign, but thanks to spending more than they receive in donations, even that cushion is down by more than 10% over the last 4 years.

In fact, at the end of 2008, the Brady Campaign was actually in the red by more than $450K. We can presume they spent 2009 fundraising like the devil and slashing expenses to make up for that, but it 2009 wasn’t exactly a great year for non-profits with so much uncertainty in the economy. The Brady Center, as mentioned before, has done much better about making sure it has some money to fall back on, so they had just under $2 million in savings.

So I guess the real question is: In what year does the April Fool’s gag of 2008 actually come true?

19 Responses to ““Brady Center Ceases Operations””

  1. beatbox says:

    Amazing. Just two days ago i got curious and looked at their 990s as well. You should look at the sad state of their PAC on Opensecrets. They have run thru their nest egg.

  2. Bitter says:

    I just finished the updated chart for those donations, too. I’ll do another post about that later today.

  3. Steve says:

    Anyone want to take odds on whether Mr. Hamm will be commenting on this post??

  4. Joe Huffman says:

    I don’t have data prior to 2004…

    Now you do.

    • Bitter says:

      Joe, Thanks! I didn’t quite save all my files off of the old laptop, and I wasn’t about to pay for it when I already had 4 years worth.

      As for Peter, I wouldn’t expect it. But that’s because this isn’t fun data for anyone to comb through. I’ve been in non-profits and seeing the writing on the wall is very discouraging. It’s rough out there for the industry as a whole, especially when Obama was chatting about ending the tax deductions for c(3) donations.

    • Bitter says:

      I just got the data, Joe. I’ll probably just do another post on that because it’s only the Center, and not the Campaign. Since the Campaign has clearly been the majority of their funding prior to 2008, that would actually be the most interesting data. But, it spans nearly the same timeline as the PAC data, so I’ll just do those two things separately.

      To address Jeff’s issue again, I can tell from a glance at 2003 that 2004 wasn’t a significant spike. So it’s definitely not election years, not that I can think how that would matter anyway. (Well, if they were doing issue-related polling, that could cost a pretty penny and could be billed to the Center.)

  5. Carl from Chicago says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the Bradys are relying more on free press outlets such as Huffpo and Opposing Views, and less on the fee-encumbered newswire press releases.

  6. Honestly, it doesn’t look like the Brady Center is even trying to align revenue and expenses like the Campaign does. It looks like they spend based on the 4 year presidential election cycle.

    • Bitter says:

      Carl, that actually makes a lot of sense. To be honest, unless you have no other options (relationships, rolodex, databases – which the Brady Campaign has, Peter knows how to do his job), those pay to release services have terrible ROI. Any non-profit would be much better off saving money from those services and investing in a Cision or Burelle’s subscription.

      Jeff, that doesn’t make much sense since the Center can’t do any electioneering or lobbying. They also aren’t the source of PAC funds, as that would be highly illegal. The ramp up you see in 2008 was likely due to Heller. Litigation is a foundation expense, so all of their legal work would have billed to the Center. I don’t think you can really count 2004 as a spike since I don’t have any data plotted before that.

  7. beatbox says:

    Bitter,

    Did you ever find a list of their donors? I thought they had to be listed with either 501c3 or c4s (i forget which one). I hear about 50K here from annenberg, 50K there from Joyce, but don’t see where they get the money.

    On the PAC, notice the % of $200+ donors for the Brady Pack compared to the 6% of $200+ donors for the NRA. Which is the real grass roots org?

    Jeff, Brady is doing exactly what they should be doing for an org in their situation. The 3 pillars of lobbying are votes, money, media. They don’t have the first two and don’t have a lot of regular news to publish. As a PR guy, I would advise them the same thing, take advantage of blogging, use free distribution services, leverage any tragedy involving guns that you can.

    They should also seriously consider a MAIG partnership to grab some of that $

    • Bitter says:

      beatbox, they are sharing the costs of Max Nacheman with MAIG, at least according to Nacheman’s testimony at hearings around PA. So even if they aren’t grabbing much money out of that, they are definitely saving money.

      You want to know the scary part of this? Their website is awful because you can’t read anything without having to work & click, and they were years late to new media. Yet their “Director of Internet Advocacy” is one of the highest paid people in the organization. She makes more than the Director of Development. And now, suddenly their fundraising woes seem to make more sense. Hell, I don’t know what she’s doing that they think she’s so worthwhile. If what I mentioned is the scope of her job, she should be making less than Peter. Whether we like it or not, there’s still a higher market value in traditional press outreach, especially when they focus on local/state issues. I just find it hard to believe they are getting their money’s worth out of their internet advocacy plan considering that a good number of their email list are gun people keeping up with their activities, most of their followers on Twitter are gun people, and I know tons of my friends are showing up as their followers on Facebook to keep up with their antics. This stuff is free, and I would agree that they should be on it, but it would seem she hasn’t cultivated the right followers.

      As for donors, they aren’t in a 990. You tend to hear about those grants because they are disclosed with the donor organization’s finances as opposed to disclosure in the Brady finances.

  8. beatbox says:

    Bitter,

    Can you do a chart combining the center/campaign revs and expenses? Since they are pretty much the same thing (practically speaking) that would be more telling of the overall shape of the Brady World.

    • Bitter says:

      Yes, I can do that. With that, here’s the list of soon-to-come data visualizations: Brady PAC 1997-2008 (framed as 1998-2008 every two years since it is measured in cycles), Brady Center (foundation arm) from 1999-2008, and combined Brady Center/Campaign donations from 2004-2008 (and I’ll include the PAC if I can break out the 2003 from 2004 cycle information easily).

      I also wanted to do an examination of their program expenses vs. administration expenses as a percentage of their overall income over the years. We’ll see how many of these charts I can create today. :)

      As for how well they do, well, I was only criticizing the “internet advocacy” which I would put squarely in another category than traditional PR. However, based on the appearance of expenses and benefits, I would say their traditional PR shop is far more valuable to them than their internet work. Looking beyond their issue and whether or not I agree, there are signs in these 990s that they seriously need to consider restructuring their staffing situation. Without being on the inside, you can’t really say there is one problem or another that, if fixed, would solve everything. I actually feel for them because I’ve been in a dying non-profit before. It’s damn depressing. I’m not gonna shed tears if they end up needing to reorganize, but I can identify with the likely morale of staff at a time like this.

  9. beatbox says:

    I didn’t say they were doing it well!! ;-).

    They have painted themselves into a box with their messaging.

  10. beatbox says:

    Awesome work. It will get a lot of play. Just 1 suggestion. Leave the pac out of the combined center/campaign donations and expenses. The PAC is a different animal, and largely dead. The key numbers, imho are the donations that support their operational work.

    2A supporters salute you!.

  11. Bitter says:

    Yeah, I decided to leave the PAC out. Just because it’s more work to get year-by-year, and also because I should be working on different real-world activist activities. :)

  12. kaveman says:

    The funny part is that as the BC is forced to use outlets like HuffPo to get their message out, pro-2A types dominate the comment section.

    The very few BC supporters who do show up for debate have little more than dick jokes.

  13. One of the women says:

    Good post, Bitter!

    One thing, in the spoof, it said there was a “majority decision (7-2) by the Supreme Court in 2008 that affirmed the individual right of firearms ownership.”

    In fact, as I recall, it was a 9-0 vote in Heller that the 2nd Amendment deals with an individual right. It’s just that only five Justices voted that the D.C. law as it was violated that individual right.

    Nice to see you posting in Snowflakes. We can now think of you and Sebastian as “the two Snowflakes.” (smile!)

  14. Bitter says:

    So very true on the vote count! That does actually make it all the funnier as a prediction.

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