The ACLU has supported Heard through her abuse claims, but a report from Rolling Stone questions how much the organization received.
In 2016, Amber Heard was praised after she publicly vowed to donate her $7 million divorce settlement from Johnny Depp to charity: $3.5 million to the ACLU, and another $3.5 million to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. But with information revealed in an investigation by Rolling Stone and the currently unfolding court battle between Heard and her ex-husband, complications have surfaced. By 2017, Heard had only donated $350,000 of the pledged sum, and to this date, according to court testimony, there is no record of any other payments directly on her behalf. Things became even more confusing when the investigation dug into the involvement of Heard’s ex-boyfriend, tech billionaire Elon Musk.
What’s even more bizarre is the ACLU’s place in the growing scandal, as they seem to be covering and conspiring with Heard as Depp’s defamation lawsuit against her presses on. The venerated nonprofit suggested to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that Heard had donated the full $3.5 million with its director of artist engagement, Jessica Herman Weitz, saying, “I don’t think anyone would have looked differently at her if she kept the settlement money that was due to her, but she knew that money could do more for others than it could for her. What that money was able to do to help protect women and other gender-based violence victims will go a long way to make a difference for the people that we serve. That was my first interaction with her, which is pretty bold. It was not, ‘I’ll throw you a tweet.’ It was, ‘I’m putting my money where my mouth is.’”
To date, the ACLU credits Heard with having donated $1.3 million; but in court, they only offered a thank you letter to verify the $350,000 donation — and Rolling Stone could not find a correlating donation in the ACLU’s tax records from that period. Email correspondence from 2017 between Heard and ACLU executive director Anthony Romero references a $500,000 donation from Vanguard Charitable, a fund used by anonymous donors; when Romero asks Heard if that donation is from her and if it should be applied to her pledge, she says yes, and that it wasn’t meant to go through Vanguard, but that she’s going back to Los Angeles to visit “E,” presumably an abbreviation for Elon Musk. Terence Dougherty, general counsel and chief operating officer of the ACLU, testified in Virginia that the $500,000 came from Musk’s account, and that he also believes that an additional, anonymous $350,000 donation came from Musk as well.
Heard will be cross-examined on the matter in the coming days, which will hopefully demystify the matter a bit more. Depp’s lawyers are holding her feet to the fire though, countering Heard’s point that she’s spent $6 million fighting Depp in court. “Ms. Heard had the entirety of the divorce settlement in her possession for well over a year before Johnny began any legal proceedings against her,” a spokesperson for Depp said. “Within five minutes of receiving the funds she could have written a check to support sick children at the CHLA and advance the cause of the ACLU, but she did neither, all the while publicly claiming it had already been done.”
The ACLU’s involvement in Heard’s 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post is also being questioned. The op-ed, which is the center of Depp’s defamation lawsuit, was titled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” It did not mention Depp by name, but made references to their time together. According to Rolling Stone, the ACLU aided Heard in placing the op-ed, while also timing the piece and the announcement that she would become an ACLU ambassador, to the release of her film Aquaman. University of San Francisco School of Law professor Lara Bazelon said in an op-ed for The Atlantic, “For them to write to the Washington Post and say Amber Heard was beaten by Johnny Depp is convicting Johnny Depp before any court had. Their job is to presume innocence because that’s what the Constitution requires. So, these communications where they’re going to bat for her seem wildly at odds with what they’re supposed to be doing.” The ACLU also planned to support Heard in court, with “attorney Vera Eidelman stating in a Sept. 13, 2019 email to a redacted group of recipients that the organization planned to file an amicus brief in Depp v. Heard in support of the defendant,” per Rolling Stone. It does not appear that Elon Musk will be testifying, and the ACLU attributed its legal support of Heard to its work with its Women’s Rights Project.