New questions are being raised over Black Lives Matter – the big-money organization, not the concepts behind the slogan – amid revelations over how the nonprofit group spent tens of millions of dollars in donations.
Or as one founder called it: “white guilt money.”
A new analysis of the group’s tax documents by the Associated Press found BLM raised $90 million last fiscal year, which included the period shortly after protests and riots that sprung up around the nation after the police killing of George Floyd.
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“That was a lot of white guilt money,” BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors said on MSNBC’s Into America podcast this week, “There’s a lot of white folks being like, ‘We just got to put the money.’”
The group said it invested some of that windfall to create an endowment. And it spent $26 million – 70 percent of its expenses – in the form of grants to organizations and families.
But some other strange spending is being called into question — specifically the millions that went to the families and friends of some founders.
“I’m sure people who donated, in some cases their rent money, to BLM didn’t expect millions of dollars going to family members and close associates of Patrisse Cullors while thousands of protests were taking place,” Tom Anderson, director of the Government Integrity Project at the National Legal and Policy Center, told the Washington Examiner.
For example, the organization paid out almost $970,000 in fees for live events and creative services to Damon Turner, who fathered a child with Cullors. The group also spent $840,000 on Cullors Protection LLC, a security firm run by her brother.
In addition, BLM gave $2.1 million to Bowers Consulting for staffing, fundraising, and other issues. That company is run by Shalomyah Bowers, who serves on the board of directors and has been involved in other capacities.
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The Daily Mail said the group spent $1.2 million on lobbying.
That’s not unusual for an organization aiming for political change. However, some of the causes may not be in direct alignment with the group’s mission.
For example, the Daily Mail said the group spent to lobby in favor of then-President Donald Trump’s second impeachment, and against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which it said didn’t go far enough.
These aren’t the first questions raised over the group’s expenditures.
Earlier this year, New York Magazine did an expose on the group’s $6 million luxury real estate purchase in Los Angeles – including the organization’s behind-the-scenes panic on how to spin it.
The magazine obtained a memo in which BLM leaders debated the best way to justify the house now that the media had discovered it.
One expert told New York that the house’s management and use – including its use in personal YouTube videos by BLM figures – could become a tax issue for the nonprofit organization, with the potential for both civil and criminal liabilities.
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What’s known so far are “indicators that the money may not be going where it’s supposed to be going,” Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School who specializes in nonprofits, told New York.
BLM leaders insist there are no financial improprieties and that everything has been done aboveboard.
But experts say they need to do much more.
Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University, said it looks like a small organization that got a huge windfall without the structure in place to handle it.
“People are going to be quick to assume that mismatch reflects intent,” he told the news organization. “Whether there’s anything improper here, that is another question. But whether they set themselves up for being criticized, I think that certainly is the case because they didn’t plug a bunch of those gaps.”
BLM is promising more transparency moving forward.
The Horn editorial team