WASHINGTON – A researcher of women's organizations is accusing bedrock feminist groups of threatening legal pressure and public embarrassment of corporations and schools if they don't contribute millions of dollars and alter policy to their liking.
Author Kimberly Schuld, who recently published a Guide to Feminist Organizations for the Capital Research Center, breaks down the membership, personnel and funding of nearly 40 established women's organizations, think tanks and health groups.
"They use each other, they are very closely aligned and they don't work independently," Schuld told Foxnews.com. "The MO of these feminist organizations is to threaten with lawsuits and threaten with embarrassment. They don't care about women, they care about their own power."
The groups targeted by Schuld's critique, including the National Organization for Women, the National Council of Women's Organizations, and the National Women's Law Center, dismiss Schuld's claims as conservative paranoia, and say all they are doing is fighting for issues important to women like child care, Social Security and equality.
"If we did not exist, [conservatives] would have nothing better to do, that's all they exist for, to tear down what we do," said Martha Burk, head of NCWO, which is currently engaged in a campaign against the men-only Augusta Golf Club in Georgia.
Burk said her coalition has never threatened a lawsuit or a boycott and it does not take corporate dollars.
"[Schuld] doesn't know what she is talking about. Our agenda does help women, pushing our agenda is what we're all about and our agenda is for equal access for women in our society," she said.
Schuld contends that it's more about money than principle and says several major corporations have found through experience that it is easier to upgrade their policies beyond existing federal and state law than to tangle with the likes of groups like NOW.
"[Women] have workplace protections up the wazoo, we are probably the most protected class in the country." Schuld said. "But this is just a shakedown over public relations. The last thing [corporations] need is a story in The New York Times saying their corporation is being sued."
For instance, Schuld said, in 1999, NOW-NYC activists pressured more than 900 women employees to sue Merrill Lynch for gender discrimination on the job. The stock trading company settled with individual plaintiffs, and Merrill Lynch donated $25,000 to the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund in 2000.
"Sometimes the law doesn't work perfectly, and sometimes we're just pointing out that rights are being violated. No money is exchanged," said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "I disagree that the law is perfect and nothing needs to be changed."
NWLC received $158,000 in legal fees in 2000, as well as $3.8 million in corporate, public and government funding.
Corporate dollars don't always stop the lawsuits, however. Merrill Lynch gave $10,000 each to NOWLDEF and NWLC in 1998. Donors like May Department Stores, which operates Lord & Taylor, has given money to NOW for many years. In recent years they have been sued several times, including by a male employee who wanted diaper-changing stations in the men's restrooms.
Officials at NOW did not return calls for comment. Between NOWLDEF, NOW and the NOW Foundation, the operation raised more than $12 million in revenues in 2000, though membership has been in decline for a decade, said Schuld.
Another breeding ground for lawsuits is on college campuses, where schools are required under federal Title IX statutes to give women equal access to athletic programs in public institutions that receive federal funding.
Under the threat of legal action, schools have cut longstanding swimming, football and baseball teams. Brown University is currently engaged in a lawsuit over female athletic participation rates -- even though it has more teams for women than for men on campus.
Schuld said the women's groups are in cahoots to "basically throw the fishnet out for plaintiffs" on campuses across the country, encouraging girls to seek legal assistance if they feel spurned by the system.
Campbell said she would not describe it that way.
"We are about trying to advance the legal rights for women and that includes educational programs about what their legal rights are. Women do have legal rights. They come to us to ask what their rights are," she said.