New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman received accolades for his efforts on behalf of the #MeToo movement. As the head law enforcement official in New York, he filed charges against Harvey Weinstein to win additional compensation for the numerous victims of the Hollywood magnate’s misconduct.
Now, Schneiderman has resigned and faces an investigation following the release of a New Yorker report alleging that he physically abused several women. These shocking revelations underscore how pervasive sexism and sexual violence are throughout all sectors: private, nonprofit, and government. They also demonstrate how rhetorical allies can, in fact, be perpetrators themselves.
When leaders abuse power to hide and perpetuate their chauvinistic behavior, the ramifications course throughout their organizations and industries. This was on full display in February when the Human Society bungled its response to the allegations against its then CEO, Wayne Pacelle.
While an elected official falling from public grace in the #MeToo spotlight may seem irrelevant to nonprofits, Schneiderman’s abrupt departure impacts New York-based nonprofits significantly. The now disgraced former attorney general used his office to aggressively police venal and corrupt individuals in the nonprofit sector, thereby raising the public’s trust in social good organizations.
He also championed legislation that would enact a state level version of the Johnson Amendment, the federal law that enshrines nonpartisanship among 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Donald Trump has threatened to dismantle this important U.S. tax code provision, which could result in the abuse of 501(c)(3) fundraising for political ends.
The tax law appears safe in the New York State Legislature’s hands, but the effective operations of the Charities Bureau—which is under the attorney general’s scope of responsibilities—is now uncertain. Will the next attorney general police bad actors as aggressively? Or will this brief period of accountability and smooth regulation end?
The #MeToo reckoning has been long overdo. Reinstating trust in organizational leadership and fostering gender parity are essential priorities across all sectors. As Schneiderman’s case illustrates, bad actors harm their victims and have a detrimental ripple effect.