Brendan Eich

Friends at MIT have been asking for comments on Brandon Eich resigning from Mozilla (story) following publicity regarding a donation that he made in support of a 2008 proposition banning gay marriage in California and news articles describing him as “anti-gay”. I replied “How do we know that he is anti-gay? Has he been quoted as saying anything against gay people? Can we reliably infer from a donation made in 2008 what his opinions might be in 2014, six years later? Do we know anything about why he made the donation six years ago? Did he have a friend who was passionate about the proposition and asked him to contribute? [I have made a lot of donations to organizations selected by friends running marathons or doing bicycle rides, for example, despite the fact that I either (a) knew very little about these organizations, and (b) in some cases would have actively opposed the idea of giving the selected organization money.] Was he against civil marriage in general, on the grounds that civil marriages can be dissolved only via litigation, which generates a lot of acrimony that is harmful to children and can cost $1 million or more in legal fees (money that would otherwise be available for childrens’ college education and inheritance)? [See my Divorce Corp. movie review for more about divorce in Eich's home state of California.] Was he against the idea of gay marriage in 2008 but now accepts it as part of the landscape in 2014?”

Even if one were to accept the idea that an employee should be fired for not holding the same political beliefs as the majority of Americans, in this particular case it does not seem that anyone, other than Mr. Eich, knows anything about Mr. Eich’s current political beliefs or that anyone has real information about Mr. Eich’s past political beliefs.

Related: summary of the known facts by a Mozilla employee

[Separately, does this show that all American jobs are converging on how my friend described his job as a tenured physics professor: "I can be fired for any reason, except incompetence." Bob Nardelli and his golfing buddies on the Board of Home Depot managed to loot from shareholders for six years before the tens of billions in lost value became impossible to ignore. If any of the folks on this list don't seem to be worth $100 million per year anymore, maybe shareholders can dig up evidence of past support for a currently disfavored political position and stop the bleeding (see my economic recovery article for how public company shareholders are disempowered by federal regulations).]

33 Comments

  1. Colin Summers

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    1

    Being a CEO is different than being an employee or community member. As for what we know of his beliefs he was encouraged to make a statement in support of marriage equality and refused to, I think his beliefs are pretty clear.

    That blog post you linked to tries to make it seem like Californians were against marriage inequality and opinion has since shifted. What happened is that the Mormon church in Utah funded a Prop 8 campaign (apparently with help from this fellow) and it shifted enough voters that the proposition passed. Polls before and after showed support for marriage equality, but that’s different from who gets their ass to the polling place.

    I enjoy your thought experiment idea of bring opposed to marriage equality because one might be opposed to the government being in the marriage business (which I am), but that is not a tenable way to express that opinion.

    I have never made a donation to a cause I actively opposed the idea of supporting. I can’t think of how I would get in that position.

    My friend Nell Minnow agrees with you opinions of overpaid CEOs are you should follow her comments about corporate governance and transparency. I think you would enjoy them.

  2. Chris

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    2

    I agree that the majority of Americans held similar beliefs at the time. As I understand it, Brendan’s views have not changed significantly since then, and he does not regret his donation. I’m sure a simple statement of the form “I made a mistake in supporting Prop 8 and would not do so again today” would have ended the issue entirely.

    As a fairly new VP of Engineering, my take is a rather personal one — a leader has great responsibility for their employees, and the idea that I should donate to remove civil rights from a group and then expect employees in that group to trust me to lead them feels ludicrous; almost an abusive relationship. I couldn’t ask someone to work for me under those terms. A healthy employer->employee relationship requires more than an unexplained “I think your marriage should be destroyed”.

    And I suspect it’s that internal pressure — the fact that he *didn’t* have the support of most LGBT Mozilla employees, who publicly asked him to step down — that made the situation untenable, rather than the outside pressure from the media.

  3. John Klein

    April 6, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    3

    Eich aside, I think we’d be better off as a society if the state got out of the marriage business entirely. Marriage was traditionally a religious institution.

    My proposal: let the state confer domestic partnership rights on all couples who desire to be in such an arrangement and let religious instituions duke it out in deciding whether they want to perform same-sex marriages or not (or any marriages at all for that matter).

    This way, the issue of same sex marriage becomes legally depoliticized reduces itself to a religio-political matter, with each religion deciding on its own what it wants to confer upon couples.

    Now, the state has a vested interest in supporting stable relationships as these are building blocks for the future health of the state. Hence, it is altogether reasonable for the state to confer partnership status on couples, but I see no reason now for the state to be involved in the marriage game.

    If implemented, the above would mean that being married would not have a legal status, in contrast to being in a domestic partnership.

    Presumably, the state got involved in the marriage biz in the first place because it was concerned about deadbeat husbands running off, leaving the state on the hook for the expenses of the abandoned wife and family.

    Footnote: I realize this opens up a conundrum if implemented: would it be permissible to be in a marriage with one person and a domestic partnership with another?

  4. lelnet

    April 6, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    4

    I’d be careful about assuming what “the same political beliefs as the majority of Americans” are…especially considering how, even in California, the measure he was backing _passed_ at the ballot box.

  5. Mark

    April 6, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

    5

    Phil,

    This is the classic example of the minority imposing their will on the majority.
    It reminds me of the San Francisco 49er’s player who stated a few years ago that he didn’t want to be around gays (in his team’s lockerroom) and was then harpooned in the national media for espousing such a view. The 49er’s actually forced him to retract his original statement and apologize.
    I would enjoy reading some of the high IQ types explanation for how free speech should only apply if the speech is what a select group wants to hear.

    @Chris,
    There is no plausible way to know for certain, but I’d wager that if put to a vote, the majority of Mozilla employees would not vote for legalization of gay marriage.
    Do you know many of this company’s employees? How could you be certain that the donation was offensive to most of these folks?

  6. Chris

    April 6, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    6

    Mark,

    There is no plausible way to know for certain, but I’d wager that if put to a vote, the majority of Mozilla employees would not vote for legalization of gay marriage.

    No, you’re way off. (I’d love to take the wager!)

    See http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-rare-are-anti-gay-marriage-donations-in-silicon-valley/ :

    96% of Google employees and 94% of Apple employees donated against Prop 8 (i.e. pro-gay-marriage). I do know Mozilla employees, and since it’s an explicitly activist non-profit, I imagine that the percentage there is higher still than Google and Apple’s. It is undoubtedly not below 50%.

    I would enjoy reading some of the high IQ types explanation for how free speech should only apply if the speech is what a select group wants to hear.

    Free speech is not freedom from the social consequences of speech by private citizens.

  7. Chris

    April 6, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    7

    Replying to myself:

    96% of Google employees and 94% of Apple employees donated against Prop 8

    Oops, I meant “Of donations by employees, 96% were against”, which is not the same thing. The conclusion is the same: tech employees in San Francisco are overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage, and especially so at organizations like Mozilla.

  8. anon

    April 6, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

    8

    I think the real issue is that the California 1974 Political Reform Act disclosed names to help voters police the POLITICIANS and make sure politicians were serving everyone equally. The California 1974 Political Reform Act disclosed names to help voters understand who LOBBYISTS were and who INDUSTRIES were supporting and how.

    The California 1974 Political Reform Act that required disclosure of donor names was not meant to be used as a revenge check list against the citizens.

    I will be far more reluctant to vote for “campaign reforms” that disclose names of donors or signers of petitions. I will vote for more privacy laws.

    I live under Joe Arpaio’s jurisdiction. Tent City, loaf bread, 24×7 Christmas music, multi-million dollar payouts of lawsuits, but there is no way I would ever donate now to get him out of office, because that SOB wins and knows how to take revenge, and this action against Brendan Eich makes it very likely AND OKAY for Sheriff Joe to do just that.

    It’s great to use lists of donors to go after Eich, what an asshole! What could possibly go wrong?

  9. Mark

    April 6, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    9

    @Chris,

    Your numbers are a tiny fraction of total employee head count. “Activists” are highly more likely to make a donation, yet the actual voting booth many times tells another story entirely. The silent majority still lives.
    I guess that’s why Prop 8 passed, eh??

  10. T. Traub

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:13 pm

    10

    Eich was a victim of political correctness. He was hounded out of his job by intolerant, vindictive people who accused him of intolerance unbecoming to a CEO, an accusation with no basis in reality.

    These people undoubtedly are congratulating themselves for their victory over the forces of evil.

  11. Eric

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    11

    Hundreds of people in the military alone, yearly, were fired for being gay under DADT until that was overturned. Last I remember, there are 30 states where someone can be fired because their boss found out they were gay.

    How would we feel if it became public that he had donated to white supremacist groups? Why is that different?

    I get it. It’s a lot easier to abstract an issue when it doesn’t directly affect you.

  12. Passerby

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

    12

    I, for one, am deeply disgusted by the Mozilla board’s abhorrent kowtowing to a hateful, spiteful splinter minority.

    So much so that I intend to not help their revenues. Goodby, Netscape.

  13. Frog

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:44 pm

    13

    Mark, look at the breakdown by county here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_8_(2008)

    All the SF & bay area counties (San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara are the primary tech hubs) voted against prop 8 by wide margins. You’re simply wrong.

  14. Frog

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    14

    Also, Greenspun, you’re wrong. A CEO is not merely an employee; (s)he sets the tone for the entire organization. Bay area tech employees are extremely socially liberal. Those of us who are not gay all have gay/bi/TG friends. This is a hot-button issue for us. The Mozilla board should be replaced entirely for failing to do their homework in the first place. You cannot run a company without the respect of your employees.

  15. Boris

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

    15

    Chris,

    You are wrong. The only people to voice public opposition to Brendan’s appointment weren’t even employees of the Mozilla Corporation. And there were precisely 5 such people that I know of. The LGBT employees of the Mozilla Corporation actually supported Brendan in their public communications. The press just decided to not report on any of them. Please feel free to mail me at bzbarsky@mit.edu and I will provide you with links to the posts; I strongly suspect that dumping a half-dozen or more links into this comment will get it classified as span.

    As far as I can tell, the resignation was entirely due to external pressure on him personally and on an organization that he had founded and wanted to succeed, not due to internal pressure.

  16. mtraven

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

    16

    Eich has a long history of contributing to right-wing causes and politicians, including the anti-semite and Holocaust denier Patrick Buchanan, so pretending that his one donation for Prop 8 was some kind of accident or aberration is disingenuous (at best).

  17. Rachel

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

    17

    I have three big issues with this post,

    First, it’s advisable to expend at least a token effort into doing some research on a subject before commenting on it. Everything asked in the first paragraph can be answered by spending a few minutes looking up recent interviews Eich has given recently. Yes, he was against gay marriage when he made that donation, and yes he still holds the same beliefs, as evidenced by his defense of them in recent interviews

    Second, Brendan Eich was not fired, he voluntarily resigned.

    Third, Eich was not pressured to leave his position of CEO because he “for not holding the same political beliefs as the majority of Americans,” He was pressured to leave because he opposes equal rights to a minority group which makes him a bigot. Claiming human rights issues are “political opinions” in the same class as being for or against higher taxes is dishonest and insulting.

  18. none

    April 6, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

    18

    Here is another blog from a former Mozilla person, mentioning that Eich donated 22 times to Tea Party Republican Thomas McClintock (CA-4, a long way from the Bay area). He also gave to Pat Buchanan and to Ron Paul. And maybe worst of all, he invented Javascript.

    Link: http://tim.dreamwidth.org/1845008.html

  19. Anon

    April 7, 2014 @ 12:07 am

    19

    > Being a CEO is different than being an employee or community member.

    So does that mean you’re asking for Sam Yagan of OKCupid to step down, too? He gave $500 to someone who is thoroughly anti-gay.

    See: http://uncrunched.com/2014/04/06/the-hypocrisy-of-sam-yagan-okcupid/

  20. philg

    April 7, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    20

    mtraven: Thanks for the link. Now we can be sure Brendan Eich hates Jews because 22 years ago he gave $1000 to Pat Buchanan? The Guardian article to which you link indicates that Eich, who may have made a small fortune following the Netscape IPO, donated a few thousand dollars over a 23-year-period to a handful of politicians. That does not seem like an indication that Eich is passionate about politics, one way or the other. The Guardian article gives no indications regarding Eich’s beliefs subsequent to 2008.

    This circles back to my original posting. We can infer with some amount of confidence that back in 2008 Eich was against the idea of gay marriage. But we have no idea why. In any case, whatever the reason for his 2008 donation, we don’t know what Eich’s opinions regarding gay marriage might be today (if there is some email, video, or article out there where Eich does express an opinion, it hasn’t been quoted anywhere that I have seen).

    None: Perhaps there is a database that shows that Eich donated to Thomas McClintock. Without a statement from Eich, how do we know what motivated the donation? Are he and McClintock personal friends? Does Eich own a small business that needs assistance with federal regulators and McClintock has made phone calls on behalf of that business? Does Eich have an investment in a company that would benefit from a change to federal law? See this NPR report for how lobbying federal politicians can generate a 22,000 percent return on investment. There are plenty of people and companies giving money to politicians in hopes of achieving a financial gain. Would you insist on a 100 percent alignment between your personal beliefs and a politician’s before collecting a 22,000 percent ROI? (Also see this zerohedge.com piece showing returns ranging as high as 77,500 percent.)

    (What would evidence of Eich’s political point of view look like? Consider this 2010 New Yorker article on John Mackey, the Whole Foods founder and CEO. Mackey expresses skepticism regarding global warming. He compares unionization of workers to “herpes”. When discussing Obamacare in an op-ed he quotes Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” There is no need to make inferences regarding Mackey’s point of view, though of course he might have changed his mind since 2010.)

  21. Chris

    April 7, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    21

    Hi Phil,

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re taking the “how can we ever really know what someone else is thinking?” thoughts past their usefulness. As I understand it, no-one familiar with the situation questions that Brendan is against gay marriage today. In a (fairly bizarre) interview with Cnet, he describes himself as having the support of some Indonesians who are opposed to gay marriage, so I don’t think even he is attempting to obscure his own views to the extremes that you are here. He still doesn’t support marriage equality, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.

    http://www.cnet.com/news/mozilla-ceo-gay-marriage-firestorm-could-hurt-firefox-cause-q-a/

    As a manager, I think that allowing your employees to discover that you want to destroy their marriages and then refusing to clarify why “on principle” is a fairly evil thing to do. If you truly think everyone should keep their political views secret from their coworkers, I’d say don’t make public donations in support of a specific cause. And if you do make public donations, don’t try to pretend there’s still a secret to protect afterwards.

  22. mtraven

    April 7, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

    22

    Oh come on, admit that the premise of this post is completely false. There is no mystery about Eich՚s views; he did not give money to the Prop 8 campaign in some fit of absentmindedness. There just is no issue here.

    Now, there are legitimate issues about whether supporting unpopular political views should result in losing your job. And there are issues about whether this is different for CEOs and normal employees, or whether Prop 8 is odious enough that it should trigger boycotts and economic punishment. These are all things where it is possible to have conflicted feelings and a robust debate. But to pretend that Eich doesn՚t have the views he has is worse than wrong, it՚s boring; it’s trying to make an intensely interesting set of questions go away.

  23. Jim Howard

    April 8, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

    23

    “Eich donated 22 times to Tea Party Republican Thomas McClintock ”

    As a software developer and a ‘Tea Party Republican’, I would like to ask my colleagues at Mozilla to tell me what would be the organizational ceiling that I should expect if I apply for a job there, since there seems to be a political loyalty test involved. .

  24. Mark Lutton

    April 9, 2014 @ 12:18 am

    24

    Mozilla has a policy embracing diversity. If Brendan Eich’s opinions and political views are so different from the “mainstream”, doesn’t that make him “diverse” and therefore welcome at Mozilla?

    Or should a diversity policy only extend to diversities we like?

  25. John O

    April 9, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    25

    Brendan Eich was a co-founder of Mozilla. Seems to me that the culture of inclusiveness that had to be protected from him, was created by him.

  26. Gary Drescher

    April 18, 2014 @ 8:43 am

    26

    Philip: If instead Eich had donated a large sum to a credible effort to rescind the existing marriage rights of interracial couples, or of Jewish couples, and if he had never subsequently renounced that support, would you be asking the same questions about the relevance to his being CEO?

    In other words, are your concerns here purely and consistently grounded in freedom of speech, or do they depend in part on the specific target of a CEO’s efforts to repeal certain people’s basic legal rights?

  27. patrickg

    April 18, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

    27

    My main problem is that we have an organization which is supposed to somewhat “technical” in the sense of engineering; in this case, engineering an open web browser along with other software. And of the people who complained and got rewarded for their complaining, none were actually competent people in this discipline, who could have replaced Eich.

  28. philg

    April 19, 2014 @ 1:08 am

    28

    Gary: I don’t think it is fair to say that Eich and the other Californians who may have supported Proposition 8 were acting to “rescind marriage rights,” as you put it. Arguably they were voting to rescind the right of some people to profit from divorce lawsuits, but the essential “marriage right” to my mind would be the right to live together with another person (or persons?) and refuse to consider romantic proposals from others. The 7 million people who voted for Proposition 8 were not seeking to prevent adults from forming romantic groupings with whatever mixtures of races, sexes, and religions they chose.

    In calling the right to marry a “basic legal right” I think it is important to separate the right to live with another adult (or adults) of one’s choice and the right to go to a judge and say “I am married to Person X and now I would like to receive a no-fault divorce and a percentage of Person X’s property” or “I was married to Person X and now I would like a no-fault divorce plus to be supported for the rest of my life out of Person X’s wages plus to have Person X pay the legal fees that I incurred in launching this lawsuit.”

    While I can see how a person who had hoped to net millions of dollars from a same-sex divorce, either a plaintiff or a divorce litigator, might be very upset at the passage of Proposition 8, that doesn’t necessarily mean that being able to profit from a same-sex divorce was an obvious “basic legal right.”

    To decide if something is a basic legal right, akin to the right not to be murdered, for example, one would typically look at what societies around the world and back in time have established. E.g., in most countries and in most times, has it been possible to earn more money from a divorce lawsuit than from a lifetime of work? If so, maybe then it would be straightforward to call it a “basic legal right” to be able to sue one’s romantic and household partner.

    The appeals courts have now ruled and it turns out that you are right and Eich was wrong. At least in the U.S., it is a “basic legal right” to be able to sue one’s romantic partner for money, whatever that person’s sex might be. But this is a relatively recent bit of universal knowledge, which would have been unavailable to Eich at the time of his career-ending 2008 donation.

    Put another way… Check out http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/history-and-timeline-of-marriage ; it seems that advocating same-sex marriage is a recent phenomenon (compare to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_LGBT_history ). Does that mean that gay rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s were in fact anti-gay?

  29. Gary Drescher

    April 19, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

    29

    Philip:

    First, I don’t consider it well-defined to say that a person is or is not “anti-gay”, which is why I made no such statement about Eich.

    Second, as you know, legal marriage confers hundreds of tangible benefits beyond the ability to sue for alimony. Regardless of whether one opposes that constellation of benefits in general, and regardless of how basic or incidental a right one regards access to those benefits to be, what Eich supported was a concrete (and partially successful) effort to single out same-sex couples and repeal their then-extant legal-marriage rights, and theirs alone.

    So again I would ask you: if Eich had instead supported a campaign to single out Jewish couples, or interracial couples, to repeal their eligibility for legal marriage (and even to repeal recognition of their existing marriages), would you be equally accepting of that effort? And if not, why not?

  30. philg

    April 19, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

    30

    Gary: I don’t know what the “hundreds of tangible benefits” are to a civil marriage that could be significant if put next to the costs of defending a divorce lawsuit (up to 100 percent of one’s assets spent in legal fees; up to 100 percent of one’s income and one’s new partner’s income spent on alimony). Certainly the tax code does not not favor the married. For example, in 2013 two people who each ran their own business could deduct $500,000 each as a Schedule 179 expense (capital equipment expensed in one year instead of depreciated over 3-7 years). Were they married their Schedule 179 deduction would be $500,000 combined, potentially costing them an additional $200,000 in federal income tax (though potentially they would get some of that back in later years by depreciating items).

    To your question about whether I would have accepted Eich as a co-worker if he had donated money to block Jews or people of different races from being married… yes. I founded and managed a company with 80 people. Some were Croatian immigrants to Germany. Some were German nationals working in Germany. Some were English working in London. Some were Pakistani immigrants to the U.S. The CEO that I hired was a Lebanese-American. It would not have been practical to try to harmonize political views among this group. We had come together to build a software product, not to achieve political change.

  31. Gary Drescher

    April 19, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    31

    Well, that wasn’t quite the question–it’s whether you’d have accepted *as CEO* someone who’d worked to revoke legal marriage-recognition specifically for Jews (or whomever). But if you say you would, then I believe you.

  32. Gary Drescher

    April 19, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

    32

    Oh, regarding the tangible legal benefits:
    http://www.marriageequality.org/1-138-federal-rights

  33. philg

    April 19, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

    33

    I wouldn’t have a different rule for the CEO than for other employees. The CEO that I hired was an observant Muslim. It seems doubtful that he would have shared all of my views on social mores and even more doubtful that he would have shared the views of our 25-year-old programmers.

    People who say “Just find someone who is extremely capable and who shares all of your political views” have, I would say, an overly optimistic assessment of the American workforce. My experience was that it was generally tough to find even one qualified person for a given job.

    [As far as that "1138 federal rights" link that you shared (thanks), they seem to have identified 1138 laws or regulations where marital status matters but these aren't necessarily ones where being married is an advantage. A lot of these may be IRS regulations where being married is a disadvantage (such as the $200,000 extra tax that a couple might have to pay from not being able to use Schedule 179). And there is no balancing of these against the $50+ billion in legal fees that is spent on divorces every year plus the funds actually transferred from divorce defendants to divorce plaintiffs. Of course you could argue that a gay person should have an equal right to be targeted for a mercenary marriage and subsequent property division and alimony obligation as a straight person. And that is now the law of the land in most states. But as I said above, I think even a lot of gay rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s might be surprised that same-sex couples now wish to use a part of the legal system that was designed for opposite-sex couples.]

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