WASHINGTON ― Millions of dollars in donations have poured into a fundraiser launched by student survivors of the school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida. When it comes to activism, the teens say they’re running the show. But there are adults behind the scenes of March for Our Lives: A document uncovered by HuffPost reveals a diverse board of directors that includes public servants, legal experts and professionals based outside of Florida.
Money raised for the March for Our Lives Action Fund, a nonprofit, will cover expenses associated with the national student rally taking place in Washington, D.C., on March 24. The money will also be used to “fight for comprehensive gun safety legislation” and to promote voter education, ballot initiatives and lobbying efforts, according to 42 West, the bicoastal entertainment industry public relations firm handling press requests for the campaign.
A board that includes six volunteer directors is overseeing all March for Our Lives funds, a spokesperson for 42 West told HuffPost in an email. Decisions on how to spend the funds will be up to that board and a “student advisory board,” the spokesperson said. When asked what sort of oversight mechanisms are set up to ensure the money is going to the students’ desired reforms, the spokesperson said, “The board of directors will handle.”
It’s perfectly normal for adults to be involved when millions of dollars are at stake. But other than the document HuffPost discovered, a nonprofit registration filed in Florida and posted on the Florida Department of State’s website, there is little publicly available information about the March for Our Lives Action Fund or who’s running it.
The fund’s directors, according to the form, are George Kieffer, chair of the Board of Regents of the University of California; Jeri Rhodes, who is with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Washington-based lobbying group founded by Quakers; Aileen Adams; who served under former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Nina Vinik, an attorney who has a background in gun violence prevention; Vernetta Walker from BoardSource, an organization that provides support for nonprofit leaders; and Melissa Scholz, an attorney who has expertise in nonprofit law. The fund is organized as a Delaware corporation and operates as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit.
The document lists Deena Katz, an Emmy-nominated producer and the co-executive director of the Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation, as president. She is helping organize the March for Our Lives on her own as an individual, a 42 West spokesperson said.
The application was linked to an address for a tax consulting firm listed on the March website advising donors where they could mail checks. An employee at the tax firm confirmed that March for Our Lives is a client. (The fund’s board of directors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
42 West did not say how much money the fund has raised.
The Parkland students who have become the face of the gun control movement have made a concerted effort to show that they’re not simply figureheads of the campaign. Although high-profile gun violence prevention advocates and wealthy donors have taken an interest in the effort, the students are careful not to be used for anyone’s agenda, they said in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday.
The teens are allowing those who’ve backed them “to help where they can,” Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told the program. “But we make sure that we are calling the shots.” Kasky, who is 17, noted that he’s not old enough to book a hotel by himself or secure permits for the upcoming Washington rally. But he also said the teens have turned away money from people who offered donations with strings attached.
It’s not uncommon for robust fundraising efforts to spring up after a high-profile mass shooting. But they’ve typically focused on covering costs for victims and their families. A separate fund for Parkland victims, coordinated by the Broward Education Foundation, is dedicated to those efforts and has raised more than $4 million, according to the campaign’s GoFundMe page.
That makes the March for Our Lives Action Fund, which is focused on national anti-gun violence advocacy, unusual.
A petition on the campaign’s website highlights a few possible legislative priorities for the students, including banning assault weapons like the one used at the Parkland school and closing a loophole in federal background check law. With the Parkland students positioning themselves to be an enduring force in the gun policy debate, it’s also possible that these priorities will continue to evolve after the march.
Although public details are still vague, a number of high-profile figures have pledged donations. The 42 West spokesperson said they have received donations from Oprah Winfrey (a reported $500,000), George and Amal Clooney ($500,000), Gucci ($500,000) “and other gracious donors.”
There is a GoFundMe campaign that had raised more than $3.3 million as of Monday, which is being split equally between the March for Our Lives Action Fund and the Broward Education Foundation.
There are also a number of large, progressive figures and groups publicly supporting the march, though it’s unclear what kind of guidance they are providing. The gun safety group named for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is continuing to “lend support in any way the students need, especially helping to operationalize these marches, from logistics to programming,” a Giffords spokesman said.
As a 501(c)(4) group, March for Our Lives Action Fund is subject to few public disclosure requirements regarding donors or expenditures, meaning the Parkland students and the board aren’t obligated to be fully transparent.
For now, the students seem fired up to continue efforts to fight gun violence in America— even as they acknowledge they’re learning as they go along. “Working with money people and law people and everybody else from home today,” Kasky tweeted last month. “Never thought I’d actually be excited to return to school.”
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