charitable questions

What Happened to Amber Heard’s ACLU Donations?

Photo: Michael Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

In August 2016, about three months after Amber Heard was granted a protective order against then-husband Johnny Depp, the actress announced she would donate $3.5 million of her divorce settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union. “We are incredibly grateful that Ms. Heard has so very generously shown her support for the important and necessary advocacy for victims of domestic violence,” the ACLU said at the time. “She can be confident that this gift will help other women live safely and freely.” But according to a deposition played Thursday in Depp’s defamation trial against Heard, it appears that, to this day, only $1.3 million has been donated to the civil-rights nonprofit.

While this might seem granular, Heard’s alleged handling of this donation is key to Depp’s trial strategy. Depp has contended that Heard’s abuse allegations and the sympathy they generated were a ploy for publicity. By discussing Heard’s relationship with the ACLU — and suggesting she wasn’t forthcoming about her planned donations — he’s trying to undermine her credibility. Terence Dougherty, the ACLU’s general counsel and chief operating officer, said in his December 2021 deposition that the $3.5 million were supposed to be paid through installments over a period of ten years. The most recent installment was paid in December 2018, Dougherty said. When the ACLU reached out to Heard in 2019 about future installments, Dougherty said, “We learned that she was having financial difficulties.”

There was some doubt around Heard paying the rest as she did not sign a “pledge form” that would make the donations legally binding, Dougherty testified. The ACLU did recognize that her financial difficulties could impact the total donation or payment schedule. However, there have not been any concrete signs that Heard won’t eventually follow through, according to Dougherty. “I’m not aware of any indication that Ms. Heard has decided to no longer pay additional amounts,” Dougherty said in the deposition played Thursday. Doughtery also said that $500,000 of the $1.3 million donated thus far was from a charitable account that appeared to be “associated with Elon Musk” and he thought the tech billionaire had set up this account. (Heard dated Musk after her split with Depp, though Musk was “just filling space,” according to testimony on April 27.) In addition to Heard’s planned donation to the ACLU, she said she would donate the other half of her $7 million divorce settlement to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It was not immediately clear how much she has paid to the hospital to date. Vulture has reached out for comment.

Dougherty’s testimony also indicated that Heard’s op-ed was penned in close collaboration with ACLU staff. A communications staffer said she wanted to see “fire and rage” in Heard’s writing. Dougherty said he had reviewed earlier drafts of Heard’s op-ed and, based upon that, “knew that they were referring to Johnny Depp [and] her marriage.” In the final edit, however, Heard’s legal team “neutered” references to her marriage and domestic violence. Heard tweeted on December 19, 2018, that she had become an “ambassador on women’s rights” for the ACLU. (She is still listed on the ACLU’s website as an ambassador.) Her op-ed ran one day prior. When Heard takes the witness stand next week, it’s all but guaranteed she will be questioned about the status of these charitable donations.

This story has been updated with additional information.

What Happened to Amber Heard’s ACLU Donations?