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SPLC, fundraising, and rich ironies

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which promotes itself as a champion for the poor and oppressed, has amassed a $319 million fortune, part of it stashed away in offshore bank accounts, according to its latest posted tax return.

Over the last six years, this left-leaning organization has made deep inroads into Alabama’s Republican supermajority. Each year, their lawyers, accompanied by high-paid lobbyists, butter-up Republican lawmakers to further the organization’s liberal agenda. And, if the sweet-talk fails, they turn on the pressure. Note their recent campaign to shame or trick Legislators into passing “lending” reforms that will leave lower-income Alabamians without a means of borrowing much-needed cash.

Their 2015 taxes show the Montgomery-based nonprofit’s notorious endowment has now swelled to historical levels, up from $302 million the year before.

SPLC’s bulging bank accounts, along with its relentless and often suspect fundraising schemes, have been well-documented for decades by some very respectable publications and watchdog groups.

The SPLC has consistently received a grade of “F” by CharityWatch, an independent association that monitors and rates charitable organizations. The “F” is related to SPLC’s stockpiling of cash, which goes well beyond what CharityWatch considers a prudent reserve for a charitable organization.

The SPLC also spends a larger percent of its budget on fundraising and other overhead expenses than CharityWatch considers indefensible.

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CharityWatch rates spending up to 25 percent on administrative needs “highly efficient.” It 2016, they reported that SPLC spent 41 percent of its budget on administrative expenses.

In 2015, SPLC reported spending less than $1.9 million on expenses related to actual litigation. It reported spending more than five times as much — almost $9.7 million on total fundraising expenses.

Tax documents seem to reveal where the Southern Poverty Law Center’s actually priorities lie.

SPLC’s fight against “predatory lenders” who reap huge profits while allegedly bilking the poor and misleading minorities, seems disingenuous considering SPLC millions with a substantial amount held in financial accounts located in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda, according to their latest tax report.

Its 2015, tax form also reveals fundraising activities all over the world including: Antigua; Aruba; Bahamas; Australia; Brunei; Burma; Cambodia; Albania; Andorra; Austria; Belgium; Algeria; Bahrain; Djibouti; Egypt; Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Argentina; Bolivia; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Ecuador.

In an article for The Weekly Standard in 2013, under the headline of “King of Fearmongers,” Charlotte Allen wrote:

“Thanks to the generosity of four decades worth of donors, many of whom, as SPLC President Richard Cohen himself noted in a telephone interview with me, are aging ‘Northern-State 1960s liberals who continue to associate Southern and Poverty with lynchings, white-hooded Klansmen, and sitting at the back of the bus,’ and thanks to what can only be described as the sheer genius at direct-mail marketing of Dees, the SPLC is probably the richest poverty organization in the history of the world.”

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SPLC also makes a small fortune suing the State of Alabama, but more often the legislators make the State an easy target. Even the recent lawsuits over the State’s failed prison system would not have occurred if the legislature would have shown the problem attention before it was out of control.

All this is not to disparage the good work of the SPLC, but to point out the group’s funding activities leave little room for them to judge those in the small loan industry.

The idea that the SPLC is helping lead the charge against so-called unscrupulous and greedy lenders, who exploit their clients and take more than they need to survive, is a rich irony if you’ll pardon the pun.

SPLC Form 990 tax returns

See tax returns here.

1.) Foreign accounts:
Question about interest or control in foreign accounts is raised on page 6 of 51. (Question 4a)
The detailed answer is on page 49 of 51 (second from bottom)

2.) Morris Dees compensation:
Pages 8 and 45 of 51.

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3.) Fundraising activities in other countries
Page 34 of 51.

4.) Endowment fund
Page 30 of 51 (Part V) If you look, it across the rows, it shows you the growth over the past few years.

5.) Litigation expenses (presumably case cost expenses)
Page 11 of 51, Line 24d.

6.) Total fundraising expenses:
Page 2 of 51, Part 1, line 16b.

Charity Watch Documents

Charity Watch

CharityWatch Criteria & Methodology

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CharityWatch High Asset Charities


Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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