Stand Up Nashville declines to disclose donors

By: - August 2, 2021 5:00 am
A representative of Stand Up Nashville speaks at a recent meeting of the Nashville Fair Commissioner's Board. (Photo: Stand Up Nashville Facebook)

A representative of Stand Up Nashville speaks at a recent meeting of the Nashville Fair Commissioner’s Board. (Photo: Stand Up Nashville Facebook)

Stand Up Nashville, the nonprofit organization exerting its influence in the debates over an array of city government projects, refused to disclose its donors in response to questions from the Tennessee Lookout.

Stand Up Nashville emerged three years ago when it successfully negotiated a first-of-its-kind community benefits agreement with the owners of the Nashville SC regarding the new soccer stadium and surrounding mixed-use development at the fairgrounds. That deal included affordable housing units, child care facility and a $15.50 minimum wage for stadium workers.

The CBA also included specific guidelines for selecting subcontractors and hiring requirements that were favorable to labor unions.

Stand Up Nashville.
Stand Up Nashville.

Stand Up Nashville has been transparent about its union ties. Labor activist Ethan Link serves as the group’s treasurer and was involved in the CBA negotiations with Nashville SC’s representatives.

But, the funding of Stand Up Nashville has remained opaque even as the group has accumulated clout in Nashville. In recent weeks, Stand Up Nashville conducted a community survey regarding neighbors’ thoughts about the proposed renovation of the fairgrounds racetrack and provided a heavy presence at community meetings regarding the planning process for the redevelopment of the east bank of the Cumberland River.

Stand Up Nashville’s executive director Odessa Kelly is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. On the eve of the Industrial Development Board’s vote on the economic development deal for Oracle on the east bank of the Cumberland River, Kelly hosted a press conference explaining Stand Up Nashville’s opposition to the project. The press conference didn’t move the needle in terms of blocking the agreement. The Oracle incentives were approved by the IDB and then unanimously passed through Metro Council.

“I think it is a totally fair question, especially as they’re continuing to be a presence on these various projects facing the city,” said Metro Councilman Zach Young, a pro-labor Democrat who co-sponsored last year’s council legislation related to safety standards on construction projects.

The Tennessee Lookout asked Stand Up Nashville to provide a list of its donors and how much each contributor has given to the nonprofit since it launched. The most recent tax forms for Stand Up Nashville do not list its donors.

Instead, Stand Up Nashville’s Michael Callahan-Kapoor emailed a pie chart showing that 89.4 percent of its funding came from “foundation grants,” 6.9 percent came from “union contributions,” and a combined 3.7 percent came from individual contributions.

In response to that information, the Tennessee Lookout twice reiterated its request for a detailed donor list, but Callahan-Kapoor and Kelly did not respond to either email.

Prior to being hired by Stand Up Nashville, Kelly worked for the Parks Department and was a rank and file member of the Service Employees International Union Local 205.

Callahan-Kapoor said unions have been among Stand Up Nashville’s member organizations since the group was founded. At a recent fair board meeting to discuss the racetrack renovation, one fair board member suggested that Bristol Motorsports, the company seeking to renovate the track and bring NASCAR to Nashville, should work with Stand Up Nashville’s representatives. As the Planning Department led community meetings regarding an east bank redevelopment master plan, Stand Up Nashville has had members in attendance, often criticizing the lack of transparency of that planning process. But, some stakeholders believe a crucial goal of Stand Up Nashville’s involvement is to be sure union workers score jobs on the Metro projects.

Young said that since Stand Up Nashville is exerting influence on city projects, he hopes the group will disclose its fundraising, reiterating that he is pro-labor.

“We believe Nashville’s economy can work for everyone. We work to create economic development that supports communities instead of destroying them,” Callahan-Kapoor said. “We bring community organizations and the labor movement together to fight for an economy that works for all. We recognize the interconnectedness of racial, immigrant and economic inequity and lead campaigns to address it.

“We combine grassroots base-building with policy expertise, and we work to be a voice for working people in the halls of power where decisions get made. Our campaigns can include support for worker organizing, corporate campaigns, and state and local policy campaigns.”

On the most recent publicly available tax forms, Stand Up Nashville disclosed spending just over $29,000 on employees salaries for the year ending 2019. In statements of financial interests, which congressional candidates are required to file when seeking office, Kelly disclosed earning $65,000 last year andl $80,000 in the current year from Stand Up Nashville.

(Editor’s note: Nate Rau worked for six months at Calvert Street Group, which also employs a former member of Congressman Jim Cooper’s staff. Odessa Kelly is running against Cooper.)


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Nate Rau
Nate Rau

Nate Rau has a granular knowledge of Nashville’s government and power brokers, having spent more than a decade with the Tennessean, navigating the ins and outs of government deals as an investigative reporter. During his career at The Tennessean and The City Paper, he covered the music industry and Metro government and won praise for hard-hitting series on concussions in youth sports and deaths at a Tennessee drug rehabilitation center. In a state of Titans and Vols fans, Nate is an unabashed Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs fan.