Miriam Ballhausen & Debian Money, DebConf Online, insulting a volunteer at a time of grief

DebConf20 was due to take place in Haifa, Israel this year (a separate controversy about Debian censoring Palestine) but it was moved online due to the pandemic.

Therefore, what happens to all the sponsorship money collected in 2020? Let's look at how Debian parks money in Switzerland.

For the first time ever, Debian paid somebody to work on DebConf fundraising as an Outreachy, generating a lot of gossip that is unfair to the woman concerned. Naturally, as in any business, fundraising salaries and other costs of acquiring sponsors are the first things that will be deducted from the budget. We share the view of those who feel she was underpaid: the woman is a highly experienced event organizer. Debian paid a total of $6,000 for her services, $2,000 per month. $500 was deducted by Outreachy administrator, Sage Sharp. This is also controversial, as Sage Sharp does the same work that Debian's GSoC Administrators do, Sage Sharp receives a cut of the money but the Debian GSoC Administrators don't receive anything. If the woman was employed at an event management company in Israel, she would have received more than $6,000 every month, overtime pay, illness and accident insurance, pension, maternity rights and a performance bonus. Many non-profit organizations give their fundraising staff at least 10% of all revenues as salary and bonus. With her experience, the woman in question would easily get that salary package in any other industry.

After deducting the $5,500 Outreachy salary and $500 Sage Sharp fees, what does Debian do with the rest of the money from these sponsors? As we are online in 2020, there are no venue expenses, no travel and accommodation expenses. We estimate that DebConf has received over $100,000 from these companies and nobody knows where it will go.

Sponsor donations$100,000
Fundraising cost (Outreachy employee)$6,000
DebConf20 online surplus$94,000
(Not actual figures, estimated from previous DebConfs)

Will this money be used to pay all the volunteers for the next DebConfs? Or will it be used for other Debian purposes?

Let's have a look at DebConf13 to find the answer.

Debian hiding money Switzerland

DebConf13 organizers had organized the venue and catering contracts separately. Neither the venue hire or catering contract included provision for washing the dishes. At the last minute, DebConf organizers had to reach out to local labor-hire companies to find temporary workers and they received a proposal for the work. Nonetheless, they didn't want to pay people. As usual, various people suggested they should try to conscript volunteers to do this tedious work:

Subject: Re: [Debconf-team] Urgent: Dishwashing & Cleaning
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2013 14:04:35 -0400
From: Tiago Bortoletto Vaz <tiago@debian.org>
To: debconf-team@lists.debconf.org

On Mon, Jul 08, 2013 at 07:57:07PM +0200, Holger Levsen wrote:
> seriously, buy two dishwashing machines (max 1000€ total) and let them be
> filled by volunteers... 5k for dishwashing is like 3% of our total budget.

I'd join a team to coordinate volunteers on this.

Volunteers don't come to DebConf to wash dishes, they want to relax after dinner, meet people, attend any evening seminars and learn new things.

debian women, diversity, washing dishes, debconf, outreachy, intern, woman

Nonetheless, organizers proceeded to seek volunteers for this task. We notice that female participation in dishwashing was close to thirty percent, much higher than the two percent rate of female participation in development. Is that a win for diversity?

While discussion about expenditures and volunteers took place on the public debconf-team list, discussions about profit from fundraising were kept on debian-private (leaked elsewhere). Local volunteers, who do most of the work in each DebConf destination, were subscribed to debconf-team but they never have access to debian-private so they didn't see the following email:

Subject: Call for ideas -- useful ways of spending Debian money
Date: Tue, 1 Oct 2013 21:46:17 +0200
From: Lucas Nussbaum <leader@debian.org>
To: debian-private@lists.debian.org
CC: auditor@debian.org, philipp@hug.cx

[ TL;DR: ETOO_MUCH_MONEY -- need ideas to flush queue ]


Thanks to the fantastic work of the DebConf13 sponsorship (fundraising)
team, DebConf13 generated a surplus. The current estimate of it is CHF 38k (that's USD 42k, or EUR 31k). That's excellent news.

The not-so-excellent news is that it means that the debconf13
association will have to pay income taxes for it. (no estimate yet;
Philipp Hug (DC13 and debian.ch treasurer) will get in touch with a tax

Even if Switzerland has been very welcoming towards Debian, it would not
be a bad idea to try to avoid paying too much taxes. A good way to do
that is to spend some of the surplus (in ways useful to Debian, of

Could you start thinking of useful ways to spend some money? servers?
porter boxes? buildds? sprints? Of course, it would need to be spent before
the end of 2013. There are no known restrictions on what we can buy or
where we can ship. What we end up buying will of course be made public
as usual. To move forward, please reply to this mail, providing an
estimate and a justification. Or mail leader@ + auditor@ if you prefer.

Somehow related: we are participating in GNOME's Outreach Program for
Women, winter edition[1].

As already stated in April[2], I wouldn't favor a situation where Debian
funds are used to pay OPW participation on a regular basis. However, as
an experiment, it makes sense to help that happen for the first time (it
didn't happen in the summer edition).

So, if the fundraising effort currently being set up fails to raise
enough money for one stipend, but still raises a significant amount of
money, I will authorize the use of Debian money for the difference
(likely for at most $2900 -- that's half the stipend, so the other half
needs to come from fundraising).

[1] https://lists.debian.org/debian-women/2013/09/msg00058.html
[2] https://lists.debian.org/debian-project/2013/04/msg00108.html

Q: Why is this on -private@?
A: Because I'm not sure yet how cautious we need to be about the DC13
surplus situation. Better safe than sorry. We can restart the
discussion on a public list when/if things are cleared.


Let us amend that final answer:

Q: Why is this on -private@?
A: because we didn't mention this money in the thread about washing dishes

Despite Nussbaum's intention to spend the money, it remains in a Swiss bank account with PostFinance.

Miriam Ballhausen, Bird & Bird, Women in Business Law Awards 2020 Finalist

Where does all the money go? Well, we know that some of it goes to lawyers. After a volunteer's father died, Debian was the only organization to send him insults through a lawyer. We've been told Miriam Ballhausen at Bird & Bird charges EUR 300 per hour for her services, which now includes writing emails and letters on behalf of the Debian project. The Debian Project doesn't exist as a legal entity, Ballhausen has so far refused to reveal who is actually instructing her.

If that rate is correct, the EUR 31,000 profit from DebConf13 would pay for 100 hours or two weeks of full-time lawyer work. We doubt that we will see Frau Ballhausen assisting with the dishes.

We would have thought that the legal profession may have some minimum standards, expecting lawyers to respect volunteers at a time of grief and expecting them to be able to identify who they work for. Not in Germany. Ballhausen's antics with Debian have seen her nominated for the Women in Business Law Awards 2020.

Miriam Ballhausen, insults, harassment, abuse, volunteer, GDPR

The next DebConf for 2021 was supposed to go to Prishtina, Kosovo. It has been suggested it will be pushed back one year to 2022 but given the pandemic situation, that is not a definite decision. There are currently no Debian Developers in Kosovo who have access to the financial information in debian-private, we hope that Debian will be as generous in paying the Kosovo local team as they have been with lawyers but we are doubtful.