The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Profits of Hate

by James Corbett, International Forecaster:

Make no mistake: hate makes a great business model for those pretending to fight it.

You might not know them by name, but assuming you have ever seen a talking head on MSCNNBCFOXMSMBS fearmongering about the ever-present danger of "hate" groups that (GASP!) don't worship the government as the holiest institution on the planet then you know they're work.

I'm referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a "nonprofit legal advocacy organization" that is "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society" according to their self-congratulatory PR material. Founded in 1971 by a pair of civil rights lawyers, the SPLC prides itself on its "Hatewatch" and "Hate Map" projects, monitoring the rise of hate groups as they spread hate and hate across America.

Did I mention hate? Because that's what the SPLC specializes in. Hate, I mean. Or monitoring hate. It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.

Anyway, if you're a dedicated listener to The Corbett Report you'll remember I did a podcast seven years ago exploding the myth of the SPLC as a crusading bunch of civil rights defenders volunteering their services across the South in their thankless pursuit of justice for the poor and downtrodden. In that episode I talked about Mark Potok (the "editor-in-chief of the SPLC’s award-winning, quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report and its investigative reports"), his relentless smearing of anyone and everyone who dares criticize the government (or, more specifically, the Democratic party), and his hatred of those vile conspiracy theorists who actively try to educate (GASP!) the people about the government's misdeeds. I discussed the fact that the SPLC provides instructors and "training materials" to the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (presumably so they can better identify and strip the rights from aforementioned conspiracy theorists). And I even discussed the SPLC's role in planting federal informants in "Elohim City," the militia enclave that housed the government spook at the center of the OKC conspiracy.

But if you have listened to that episode (or if you do so now), you'll find that the single most intriguing about the SPLC is their annual revenue and net asset holdings. Citing the most recent data available at that time (2010), I noted that the Center's 2007 revenue was $44.7 million (on $20.8 million in program expenses) and their 2008 net assets totaled an unimaginable $170 million.

Yes, you read that correctly: $170 million. Not bad for a "nonprofit" legal advocacy group, hey?

But if you think that's outrageous, just wait till you hear what that number is now. And wait till you hear what they're doing with it.

In their 2015 declaration (the most recent available to the public), the SPLC admits to $58.2 million in revenue and...(are you ready for it)...a staggering $328.4 million in net assets. That's right, this "nonprofit" legal advocacy group, this ragtag bunch of civil rights lawyers and anti-hate do-gooders, now has a war chest totaling 1/3 of a billion dollars. To use the internet parlance: WTF?

Keep in mind, a considerable portion of which is raised from aggressive direct mail campaigns aimed at pensioners and those struggling to get by, pulling at their heart strings by pleading financial difficulty in their noble pursuit of ridding the world of hate. As Ken Silverstein noted in a groundbreaking article about the SPLC and its cofounder Morris Dees in Harper's in 2000:

Any good salesman knows that a products "value" is a highly mutable quality with little relation to actual worth, and Morris Dees-who made millions hawking, by direct mail, such humble commodities as birthday cakes, cookbooks (including Favorite Recipes of American Home Economics Teachers), tractor seat cushions, rat poison, and, in exchange for a mailing list containing 700,000 names, presidential candidate George McGovern-is nothing if not a good salesman. So good in fact that in 1998 the Direct Marketing Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame. "I learned everything I know about hustling from the Baptist Church," Dees has said. "Spending Sundays on those hard benches listening to the preacher pitch salvation-why, it was like getting a Ph.D. in selling." Here, Dr. Dees (the letter's nominal author) masterfully transforms, with a mere flourish of hyperbole, an education kit available "at cost" for $30 on the SPLC website into "a $325 value."

But lest there be any doubt that Dees and the Center are raising these hundreds of millions of dollars to somehow spend hate out of existence (or something like that?), The Washington Free Beacon just released another bombshell report on the Center's shady finances. Titled "Southern Poverty Law Center Transfers Millions in Cash to Offshore Entities," the report finds an interest from the group's 2014 tax filing. To summarize, the SPLC:

  • transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to a bank account located in the Cayman Islands.
  • transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to unknown foreign entities (going by descriptive names like "BPV-III Cayman X Limited").
  • transferred a total of $4.4 million in two separate transactions to two foreign entities sharing the same address in the Cayman Islands in 2015.
  • declared "financial interests" in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda (with no further details given).

This is not just odd behavior for a nonprofit civil rights litigation firm in the US, it's downright inexplicable.

"Tax experts" contacted by the Beacon for the story were uniform in their expressions of bafflement. "It seems extremely unusual for a ‘501(c)(3)' concentrating upon reducing poverty in the American South to have multiple bank accounts in tax haven nations," said one. "I am stunned to learn of transfers of millions to offshore bank accounts," said another. "It is a huge red flag and would have been completely unacceptable to any wealthy, responsible, experienced board member who was committed to a charitable mission who I ever worked with."