Problems Rocking The Vote

Rock the Vote, the well-publicized, highly visible nonprofit that registers 18- to 25-year-old voters, has a few problems to sort out.

For starters, it overspent during the 2004 election and came up $241,000 short, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Rock the Vote has been sued twice in the last eight months and has about $700,000 in total debt, the paper also said. The company once had more than 20 employees, but now has only two. Its president, who left last summer because she didn’t like where she thought the organization was headed, has not been replaced.

Fred Goldring, a music attorney and chairman of Rock the Vote’s board, told the Times a decrease in donations is the main problem.

“We’re like the popular kid who never gets asked out because everyone thinks he already has a date,” said Goldring, who presides over a board that includes such prominent music executives as MTV President Judy McGrath and Viacom chief exec Tom Freston. “Everyone thinks this group is rich because of our enormous visibility.”

A donations dip might not be Rock the Vote’s only problem. According to more than half a dozen people familiar with the situation, Rock the Vote’s staff might not have been qualified to handle such a large nonprofit, according to the Times.

The 2004 election saw more than 20 million youth voters cast ballots, 11 percent more than in the previous election. Rock the Vote registered 1.4 million voters that year, according to the Times. But registering all those rockers wasn’t cheap, and Rock the Vote ended up overspending.

The group’s fund-raising dropped 22 percent to $1.3 million, but it spent $1.66 million. It makes sense for a political nonprofit to spend extra money during election time, but the Times said it’s unusual for such an established group to operate this way.

Los Angeles County sued Rock the Vote for $320,000 over a 2002 contract. It reportedly paid the group to put together an anti-discrimination public education fund, but the county alleges that the company mishandled the campaign and impeded its success. The pending suit seeks unspecified damages.

Rock the Vote’s former president, Jehmu Greene, said the group’s board members are frequently more interested in the artists involved than actually registering voters.

“Board members wanted to use Rock the Vote to give their artists visibility,” she told the paper. “But sometimes it was way too expensive, or would send the wrong message, like having a rock band play when we’re trying to register kids into hip-hop.”