Animal Wellness Action
Animal Wellness Action was founded in 2018 by Wayne Pacelle, who had just resigned months earlier as CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle had come under fire over allegations that he had sexually harassed a number of women. After HSUS’s board initially stood by him and closed an internal investigation, bad press and lost donations led to Pacelle resigning–though he has never admitted culpability or apologized publicly.
Animal Wellness Action appears to be Pacelle’s attempt to form a new HSUS. The organization operates much as HSUS did, putting lobbying and advocacy on the front burner.
Founding and Pacelle Role
AWA was initially registered by David Harvilicz, a lawyer whose sister runs the affiliated Animal Wellness Foundation in California. David Harvilicz had been an outspoken critic on social media of Pacelle’s ouster, accusing his accusers of being “pawns” for enemies of HSUS. This dismissal parallels Pacelle’s own statement to the media that the sexual harassment allegations were simply “a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization.”
No doubt recognizing Pacelle’s toxic reputation, AWA at first attempted to obfuscate his involvement as president and founder. After word of Pacelle’s new venture leaked, executive director Marty Irby misleadingly told the media: “Pacelle is a friend to Animal Wellness Action, myself, and other supporters of our organization and has volunteered to help us, and a number of other organizations within the animal protection world. He is unpaid, does not have any title, and is not a member of the board or an employee.”
But Pacelle has gradually taken a more public role, speaking on behalf of the organization in press releases and commentary. But he is still controversial. His failure to apologize has been highlighted by no less than his successor at HSUS, Kitty Block, who called out Pacelle in the Chicago Tribune: “as far as we know, Pacelle has not atoned at all. Society gets into trouble when we welcome individuals back into the fold when they have not owned up to their misdeeds or otherwise attempted to address the harm they caused. This is the minimum we should expect.”
Pacelle may be counting on people having short memories.
Animal Wellness Action has largely focused on federal lobbying on issues such as horse racing, but also has state directors for Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Oregon.
Animal Wellness Action is organized as a 501(c)(4), which allows it to engage in some political conduct. It also has an affiliated Animal Wellness Action PAC that engage in election campaigns.
According to FEC filings, AWA spent about $310,000 on electioneering in the 2018 cycle. AWA’s expenditures focused on four Congressional races, with AWA opposing Republicans in all four.
AWA PAC raised about $72,000 in the 2018 cycle, disbursing a majority of this to political campaign committees. As of June 2020, AWA PAC has raised close to $180,000 in the 2020 cycle.
Many of the staff and volunteers have ties to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Executive director Marty Irby is a former in-house HSUS lobbyist, as is federal affairs director Holly Gann.
AWA’s board of directors consisted of Deborah Wilson, Annie Harvilicz, and Sherry Kellett.
According to its Form 990, Animal Wellness Action raised $1.2 million in 2018, the year of its inception. Its expenses were $831,000. The largest line item was electioneering, followed by lobbying and advocacy; it spent $225,000 on state ballot measures and $310,000 on electioneering.