For Girl Scouts leaders, responding to criticism during the annual cookie sale ritual seems to have become as routine as helping the youngsters sell the sweets.
The latest charge comes from an old foe of the Girl Scouts, Pro-Life Waco, a Texas organization that supports restrictions on abortions. The group is urging a nationwide boycott of the cookies to send a message about what they see as a say-one-thing, do-another-thing policy at the Girl Scouts national headquarters.
Promoted online, in radio ads and fliers as “CookieCott,” the campaign stems from social media posts by Girl Scouts of USA that Pro-Life Waco interpreted as promoting politicians who support abortion rights, including Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“People have free speech, but we do want honesty,” said organizer John Pisciotta, a retired Baylor University economics professor and Pro-Life Waco member. “Officially, they take no position on abortion and birth control, so you wouldn’t expect to see a whole bunch of pro-abortioners celebrated -- absolutely not.”
The efforts have frustrated Girl Scouts officials, though there’s scant evidence that the calls for a boycott will be heeded when door-to-door sales begin Saturday. In recent years, various advocates have called for cookie boycotts because of the organization’s tolerance of transgender youths and lesbians and the use of palm oils and trans fats in the cookies.
“It is this time of year that special interest groups try to advance their agenda on the backs of girls,” said Carol M. Dedrich, a spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. “Girl Scouts will not tolerate special interest groups linking our name to any political issue in order to advance an agenda.”
During previous boycott calls, Girl Scouts stood by their policy of allowing lesbian members as long as sexual orientation wasn’t promoted or advocated. Officially, the organization doesn't promote any sex-related policies and stays out of politics. As far as its cookie, suppliers have reduced trans fat content to virtually zero, but bakers still use palm oil as a substitute.
Pisciotta and Pro-Life Waco first targeted the Girl Scouts a decade ago when a local council was allowing its logo to be used on fliers of Planned Parenthood, an abortion provider. After the issue drew national attention, the logo was dropped from the fliers and the local scouting group slowly fizzled.
Pisciotta said by phone this week that he’s kept an eye on the organization ever since and hasn’t bought a box of cookies since 2003. His attention was piqued when he saw Girl Scouts use its Twitter to link to a Huffington Post video about possible candidates for women of the year. Texas lawmaker Davis was named as a contender.
“What did Wendy Davis do in 2013 to get notoriety? She did one thing and that was a filibuster against limitations on abortions,” Pisciotta said.
A couple of weeks later, the Girl Scouts’ Facebook page linked to a Washington Post article about seven women who made a difference in 2013. On the list, alongside women including television news anchor Robin Roberts and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, was Sebelius.
“We’d just like to get Girl Scouts to align what they say with what they do,” Pisciotta said.
Kelly Parisi, a national spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts, called it “preposterous that anyone would boycott the Girl Scouts in a misguided effort to score cheap political points.”
"We don’t vet women based on their personal beliefs, because frankly those are irrelevant to our nonpartisan mission," Parisi said.
For an organization that is downsizing, selling campgrounds and seeing a membership drop from nearly 3 million to about 2 million in the last decade, the controversy might be a good thing.
“More people talking about Girl Scout cookies make them more top of mind and remind people to buy,” said Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School who in December released a study about the old adage that any publicity is good publicity.
“In the end everyone wins,” Berger said.
Dedrich, the L.A. spokeswoman, said officials have received comments from members about the boycott.
“The overall reaction is that our members are appalled,” she said.