- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The National Council of Women's Organizations' attack on Augusta National Golf Club for its all-male membership policy has brought the lobbying group power and visibility it had never approached in its previous 19 years of existence.
Martha Burk and the NCWO were anything but household names four months ago. Now Ms. Burk, the council's chairwoman, is among the most quoted and visible public figures in the country.
The NCWO had been a small player on Capitol Hill. It operates out of one office, has a staff of four, a budget of $500,000 and a low profile. But thanks to the fight, spearheaded by Ms. Burk, to force Augusta National to admit women, she and the NCWO have enjoyed a sharp rise in exposure and influence.
Since the NCWO requested in June that Augusta admit women, leaders of the private club have angrily rejected any outside pressure on its membership policies. Augusta National has parted ways with Citigroup Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and IBM Corp., the three lead sponsors of the Masters. And five club members have publicly come out in favor of admitting female members.
Ms. Burk and the NCWO, in the eye of this hurricane of debate on gender equality and the legal rights of private organizations, have benefited handsomely. She says, however, that the initial letter to Augusta's leadership was sent with no purpose beyond opening up the club's membership.
In the four years before the Augusta National debate began, Ms. Burk and the NCWO were cited in 82 news stories, according to an archive search of North American newspapers, magazines and wire services. In the four months since, more than 800 stories citing Burk and the NCWO have been recorded.
Television appearances tell a similar story: Ms. Burk made 80 from 1992 to June 2002 and 72 more since June.
But more important to Ms. Burk and other leaders of the women's movement, key issues across their agenda such as equal rights for women in scholastic and collegiate sports, and the legal rights of women in Third World countries have gained a more receptive audience in the media and on Capitol Hill because of Augusta.
"The coverage on our other issues is still a drop in the ocean compared to Augusta. We've been blown away by how big this has become," Ms. Burk said. "But there's no question Augusta has given us a wonderful opening to talk about the issues that are really more important to us. As soon as someone asks, 'What else are you doing for women?' we can answer right there chapter and verse."
Jennifer Sweeney, director of public policy for Business and Professional Women/USA, agreed.
"This is an entry point for our entire platform," Ms. Sweeney said. Her group is an NCWO member. "In a lot of venues, this opens up the conversation on women's issues. [The NCWO] is really involved in women's rights in Afghanistan. We're really involved in many glass-ceiling issues. It's a jumping-off point."
Already, the NCWO's ability to make its fight with Augusta national news has been quite a feat considering that it is a relatively small operation. No doubt, the declaration of Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson that the club's membership would not be changed "at the point of a bayonet" also greatly fueled the controversy.
But the NCWO's tiny staff and budget are just a fraction of those of the National Organization for Women, one of the largest and most widely known women's groups. NOW has branches in all 50 states and an annual budget of more than $10 million, including its charitable foundation and legal aid fund.
NOW is a member of the NCWO, as are 160 other prominent women's organizations. As essentially an association of associations, the NCWO, by design, is a lean operation and works as a link between those member groups. Prior to the Augusta controversy, the NCWO remained a niche player, even within the women's movement. The NCWO, which started as an ad-hoc group in 1983 and formally organized in 1995, is also one of the younger outfits promoting women's causes.
"One thing this has definitely done is give [the NCWO] a national profile," said Heidi Hartmann, president of the District-based Institute of Women's Policy Research and a member of the NCWO's steering committee. "The NCWO was well-known in Washington, but [Augusta] has really pushed the organization's issues front and center. Before, it was really rare for the NCWO to have an issue that other, more prominent groups had not already identified."
Ms. Hartmann said that in particular the Augusta fight has given the NCWO "traction" on two key issues: Title IX and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
President Bush called a U.S. Department of Education panel to review the 30-year-old Title IX statute. Changes could come next year. The majority of women's groups vehemently oppose any revisions to Title IX.
The convention, meanwhile, has developed an international bill of rights for women that the NCWO and other groups seek to have formally ratified by the United States.
One area that has not been boosted because of Augusta is fund raising. The NCWO, which sets its budget largely from dues from the member groups, has not solicited donations since the fight began.
"I made a very conscious decision to not fund raise," Ms. Burk said. "I don't want to be accused of trying to capitalize on this."

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