Sat. Apr 13th, 2024
alert-–-taylor-swift-backed-vote.org-in-crisis-as-nearly-half-the-staff-is-abruptly-fired-and-others-quit-in-protest-after-funding-dries-up-amid-claims-new-ceo-spends-more-time-promoting-herself-than-getting-voters-to-registerAlert – Taylor Swift-backed Vote.org in crisis as nearly half the staff is abruptly FIRED and others quit in protest after funding dries up amid claims new CEO spends more time promoting herself than getting voters to register

One of the nation’s most prominent get-out-the-vote groups – which Taylor Swift endorsed – is experiencing a mass exodus of staff as it faces a fiscal and leadership crisis in the middle of a presidential election year, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal.

Vote.org, which began the year with up to 20 paid positions, has lost nearly half its staff since February, when the communications director quit while expressing frustration with management, insiders tell DailyMail.com.

The chief operating officer resigned in early March and late last week five employees were let go including the vice president of development, director of partnerships, program manager, a software engineer and a junior staffer, sources said.

Now sources blame management for loss of funding, pointing to CEO Andrea Hailey who, they say, is more focused on promoting herself than the organization.  

Nonpartisan voter registration platform Vote.org began the year with up to 20 paid positions and has lost nearly half its staff since February

Nonpartisan voter registration platform Vote.org began the year with up to 20 paid positions and has lost nearly half its staff since February

Swift has backed Vote.org and has been using her influence to get people out to the polls since 2018

Swift has backed Vote.org and has been using her influence to get people out to the polls since 2018

Sources told DailyMail.com that CEO Andrea Hailey's 'focus is that the organization promotes her' rather than running the company

Sources told DailyMail.com that CEO Andrea Hailey’s ‘focus is that the organization promotes her’ rather than running the company

The layoffs couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

‘It’s bad for democracy when the largest voter registration organization in the country is facing internal problems in an election year and can’t take advantage of what should be a fertile period for fundraising,’ one insider said.

‘It’s also troubling for people who are really focused on preserving democracy with this election coming up.’

CEO Hailey, 43, alerted the affected staffers herself via email, giving no explanation or offer of severance.

‘We regret to inform you that your employment with vote.org is terminated, effective Thursday, March 21, 2024,’ reads Hailey’s message, obtained by DailyMail.com.

‘Due to the sensitive nature of your prior scope of work, we have terminated access to email and our systems.’

‘We’ll arrange for your laptop and cell phones to be returned to the organization,’ she continued, and directed staff to contact HR to ‘coordinate your final salary payment and COBRA, according to vote.org policy, should you be eligible to participate.’

‘We wish you the best of luck for your future endeavors,’ she closed. ‘Respectfully Yours, Andrea.’

Reached this week by DailyMail.com, Hailey stated, ‘Unfortunately, Vote.org’s ability to maintain our staff and the innovative programs that make this work possible depends on the pace of philanthropic giving which often comes closer to the election.

‘Like other non-profits, we have had to make difficult decisions to ensure we are in a strong position to achieve our mission in this critical presidential election season.’

The terminations followed months of mixed messages from higher-ups. At the beginning of the year, the group posted several job openings and in early March flew senior employees from around the country to Los Angeles for a retreat focused on team building and bonding, sources said.

But the hopeful signs obscured a grim reality. Staff had been told in recent months that they were not meeting fundraising goals. 

One major hit came from the Silicon Valley group Mind the Gap, which contributed a combined $21million for radio campaigns in 2020 and 2022, but eliminated funding for 2024, blaming poor management and high administrative costs at Vote.org, sources said.

‘The donors saw some struggles with their ability to manage the program,’ one source explained. ‘Also, administrative costs were surprisingly high.’

Hailey 'aspired to be another Stacey Abrams' according to Vote.org's former communications director

Abrams is a renowned voting rights activist from Georgia with a national profile

Hailey (left) ‘aspired to be another Stacey Abrams’ according to Vote.org’s former communications director

In September the CEO of Vote.org shared the numbers that resulted from the link in Swift's statement encouraging her fans to vote, which includes signing up over 35,000 registrations and 50,000 people confirming that they were registered

 In September the CEO of Vote.org shared the numbers that resulted from the link in Swift’s statement encouraging her fans to vote, which includes signing up over 35,000 registrations and 50,000 people confirming that they were registered

Hailey rakes in a salary of more than a quarter-million dollars. 'Her focus is that the organization promotes her,' one insider told DailyMail.com. 'The organization is supposed to be about the work. That's not her strategic mission'

Hailey rakes in a salary of more than a quarter-million dollars. ‘Her focus is that the organization promotes her,’ one insider told DailyMail.com. ‘The organization is supposed to be about the work. That’s not her strategic mission’

Among the events Hailey (left) has attended in the past couple of months are SXSW, the annual arts festival in Austin, Texas, and the NBA All Star Game in Indianapolis

Among the events Hailey (left) has attended in the past couple of months are SXSW, the annual arts festival in Austin, Texas, and the NBA All Star Game in Indianapolis

Vote.org describes itself as the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration platform in America. It drew more than 14 million visits in the 2022 election cycle, providing tools for voters to register, request mail-in-ballots, find polling places and learn about applicable laws.

Promoted in past elections by Barack Obama, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian, the group received a fresh boost in September when Taylor Swift directed fans to vote.org and got 35,000 to register.

But internally, staff concerns were growing as funds dried up. Some blamed management, depicting Hailey – who rakes in a salary of more than a quarter-million dollars – as more focused on championing herself than the organization.

‘Her focus is that the organization promotes her,’ one insider told DailyMail.com. ‘The organization is supposed to be about the work. That’s not her strategic mission.

‘She has a personal stylist who dresses her and somebody who does her hair and makeup for Zoom and every public event she goes to.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve worked for pretty high-level elected officials,’ the source added.

Among the events Hailey has attended in the past couple of months are SXSW, the annual arts festival in Austin, Texas, and the NBA All Star Game in Indianapolis.

‘She’s not the First Lady of the United States. It is a very high level she spends on appearance and travel, and she feels the need to travel with security wherever she goes,’ the source said. 

A Vote.org spokesperson said the security is necessary because Hailey has been the target of thousands of threats, including death threats and racist screeds, with repeated use of the ‘N’ word. She’s also had her hotel room broken into. 

The spokesperson added that Hailey pays for some of the security herself, as well as her own stylist. ‘Hair and makeup for media interviews and public appearances is a common expense for high profile women leaders in the public eye,’ the spokesperson added.

Vote.org’s former communications manager Lauren Brown told DailyMail.com that she was hired in July 2021 primarily to ‘elevate Andrea’s profile’.

She said her boss aspired to be another Stacey Abrams, a renowned voting rights activist from Georgia with a national profile.

‘That was what Andrea wanted,’ said Brown, who quit the following year. ‘Stacey Abrams had a huge profile in the space. Andrea outright said she wanted to be everywhere Stacey was.’

‘It felt like Andrea really enjoyed the luxuries of being a CEO, but it did not seem like I was working with someone who was living, dying, breathing to make sure people could vote,’ Brown added.

Others have criticized Hailey’s management style.

‘Andrea spends her days pitting team members against each other so she can become the hero and save the day,’ one insider told DailyMail.com. ‘It’s a very unhealthy workplace environment.’

Debra Cleaver, Vote.org's founder, had run the group for over a decade before the board – on which Hailey sat – voted to fire her

Debra Cleaver, Vote.org’s founder, had run the group for over a decade before the board – on which Hailey sat – voted to fire her

Hailey was appointed CEO in 2019 after the board she sat on voted to fire Debra Cleaver, Vote.org’s founder who had run the group for over a decade.

The move sparked a bitter feud between Cleaver’s donors and her former board, causing millions of dollars in anticipated contributions to fall through.

In 2022, Cleaver sued for wrongful termination in an attempt to retake control, claiming she’d been fired for accusing the board of misappropriating $40,000 in severance to an employee who resigned voluntarily.

Vote.org denied wrongdoing and claimed Cleaver was terminated for erratic and abrasive behavior, Time Magazine reported at the time.

But Cleaver’s lawsuit also took direct aim at Hailey, accusing her of embellishing and lying about her credentials to become CEO.

She cited several examples including Hailey’s claim to have worked on scores of congressional campaigns and advised two U.S. presidents. An FEC database shows she had actually worked, briefly, for just one congressional campaign, the suit states.

The lawsuit also claims Hailey had a checkered financial history including multiple tax liens and an eviction from a $7,000-a-month luxury Georgetown rental for purportedly failing to pay four months’ rent in 2019, shortly before she was hired.

The Vote.org spokesperson told DailyMail.com that Hailey worked for House Majority PAC and other consulting firms assisting dozens of campaigns. Regarding the Georgetown case, the spokesperson said that involved a broader dispute with the landlord over requested repairs and that the eviction order was later withdrawn.

Under Hailey’s tenure, Vote.org raised $22.3 million and spent $20.6 million from January 2020 to June 2022, when it had $4.7 million in reserve, according to the most recent public tax filings.

She told DaiyMail.com that she has proudly presided over a 270 percent increase in funds raised, a 257 percent increase in site visits, a 220 percent increase in new voter registrations and a 5000 percent increase in voter contacts, while security new partnerships and pioneering innovative programs to reach vulnerable communities.

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