Friends of Abe, the organization launched a decade ago as a fellowship for Hollywood conservatives, told members on Thursday that it would abandon its IRS 501(c)3 status, stop collecting sustaining membership dues and operating its website.
Instead, the organization will become a looser affiliation, although some of its founders denied that they are dissolving completely.
“The situation is we were always designed to be a fellowship and not an activist organization,” said writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, one of the founders of the group. “But now is the time where everyone wants to do something. The community is aware of us. The town is aware of us. Every trade paper and news outlet is aware of us. We really don’t need to exist as a centrally focused private discreet organization. It is time to open the birdcage and fly.”
Chetwynd denied a report from The Guardian that the reason for the move was because of acrimony between members in the GOP primary battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, calling the article “left wing-mischief.”
“We have been considering this for a long time,” Chetwynd said. “It has nothing to do with it.”
Instead, he said that a majority of its members back either Cruz or Trump, a reflection of the insurgency going on in the GOP.
He said that discussions have been ongoing since last fall over the future of the organization, and costs have been a concern. Its profile has risen as a parade of nationally known GOP and conservative figures have addressed the group, including Cruz and Trump, as well as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Paul Ryan. Its members have included Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and Jon Voight, and Gary Sinise was its chief founder.
But the premise of the organization was for lesser known conservatives to be able to meet in private to share their views. In an industry that leans left, a number of members have expressed fears that a rightward view could be held against them, and perhaps jeopardize employment prospects. It also was a counterweight to where a lot of industry networking takes place, at a constant array of progressive fundraisers for candidates and causes.
Executive director Jeremy Boreing said that the group has about 2,300 members, and its size is a sign of its success.
“Today, because we have been successful in creating a community that extends far beyond our events, people just don’t feel as much of a need to show up for every speaker or bar night, and fewer people pay the dues that help us maintain that large infrastructure,” according to an email sent to members on Thursday.
The email said that the move was “an end to the standing organization, but not an end to the mission or the fellowship.”
Boreing will continue to maintain the mailing list and stage events, but they will be less frequent and “perhaps more meaningful,” according to the email. “It will be a passion project, like it was in the beginning.”
The group, which does not endorse or fundraise for candidates, had a high-profile dispute in 2014 with the IRS as it sought to obtain 501(c)3 non profit status, as the IRS expressed concerns over the political nature of its activities. The organization also refused to give the agency access to the portion of its website that included a membership roster, which it protects. The IRS eventually granted the status.
But retaining that status comes with costs, along with the cost of maintaining its website and other administrative expenses, as well as lawyers and accountants. According to IRS disclosure forms, the group took in $284,985 in revenue in 2013, compared with $241,680 in expenses. Sinise stepped away from the group’s leadership several years ago to concentrate on his foundation, which supports military veterans.
Chetwynd said that the group will continue to exist, but more in the way that it did before it was seeking the nonprofit status, when it was a looser organization where members would meet for drinks and to hear speakers. It also will free it up to perhaps take a more activist approach to political activity. The nonprofit status prohibits the group from fundraising or advocating for a candidate.
Pictured: Ted Cruz has been among the speakers at Friends of Abe events.