Southern 'Poverty' Law Center's
Cayman Island's Bank Account
[UPDATE: I've received a reply from SPLC. Scroll down to read it.]
As if an unquestionable and unblemished deity was handing down tablets of absolute truth, many gay bloggers and community leaders including Dan Savage wholly embraced the release earlier this week of a new list on 18 of the menacing antigay groups stirring up trouble from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
No doubt, the groups fingered by the SPLC don't like us and contribute greatly to our political setbacks, but it's not big news to me that the groups have been corralled on to an SPLC list - one of obvious extremist enemies. The gays have more to worry about with the very mainstream Democratic Party and its affiliated gay front group, the Human Rights Campaign. Let's look beyond the scary report and peek at larger SPLC issues.
The SPLC's new 2009 IRS 990 filing shows they have a bank account in the Cayman Islands. Now, stop for a good long minute and ask yourself what the hell is a supposed poverty-fighting Alabama-based tax exempt organization doing with such an account. Then ponder this: how much money is in it.
Unfortunately, the IRS does not require SPLC or any tax exempt charity with an account in a foreign country to disclose additional details, such as the amount, and the SPLC's current 990 filing merely notes the existence of an account in a foreign country. The center's site reveals neither the existence of the off-shore account nor the total it contains.
Assets for the organization are listed at $190 million, a nice chunk of change in these economic hard times. When was the last time this group, with almost $190 million in assets, did a damn worthwhile thing about, um, poverty?
The latest 990 additionally shows founder and chief trial counsel Morris Dees had his salary raised to $350,000, and his CEO, Richard Cohen, is close behind at $345,000.
The tax filing also shows Dees traveled by air charter, and that his spouse, artist and businesswoman Susan Starr, accompanies her husband on the business trips.
The big bucks nesting in SPLC's bank accounts, domestic and foreign, are not the only area of interest to me. Noted veteran leftwing writer Alexander Cockburn in May 2009 analyzed SPLC's IRS 990 for the previous year, its enormous endowment and wallet-busting salaries, and compares its agenda with more effective and smaller budgeted groups:
How about attacking the roots of Southern poverty, and the system that sustains that poverty as expressed in the endless prisons and Death Rows across the South, disproportionately crammed with blacks and Hispanics?
You fight theatrically, the Dees way, or you fight substantively, like, for example, the Institute for Southern Studies run by Chris Kromm; or like Stephen Bright, who makes only $11,000 as president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights. The center's director makes less than $50,000 [...] Bright's outfit is basically dedicated to two things: prison litigation and the death penalty. He fights the system, case by case. Not the phony targets mostly tilted at by Dees but the effective, bipartisan, functional system of oppression, far more deadly and determined than the SPLC's tin-pot hate groups. [...]
And Cockburn is not the only watchdog keeping his eyes on all the millions of dollars flowing to SPLC and how the funds are used. Former Harper's Magazine writer Ken Silverstein wrote a piece about the group in 2000, subtitled "How the Southern Poverty Law Center profits from intolerance," that is still very pertinent and well-worth reading today:
What the center's other work for justice does not include is anything that might be considered controversial by donors. According to [anti-death penalty lawyer] Millard Farmer, the center largely stopped taking death-penalty cases for fear that too visible an opposition to capital punishment would scare off potential contributors. In 1986, the center's entire legal staff quit in protest of Dees's refusal to address issues - such as homelessness, voter registration, and affirmative action - that they considered far more pertinent to poor minorities [...]
In the early 1960s, Morris Dees sat on the sidelines honing his direct-marketing skills and practicing law while the civil rights movement engulfed the South. "Morris and I ... shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money," recalls Dees's business partner, a lawyer named Millard Fuller (not to be confused with Millard Farmer). "We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich." [...]
For Dees, the P in SPLC has nothing to do with personal poverty. That P better stands for profit or profiteering for him, and foolish donors keep sending him checks, thinking they're helping poverty-stricken blacks or whites in Alabama move into better housing.
Since we're on the subject of abodes in the Yellowhammer State, let's have a gander at where Dees lives courtesy of the May 2010 Montgomery Advertiser 60-photo feature just on his mansion, the opulent furnishings and layout, not to mention a fabulous outfit shown off by his wife:
The swimming pool, as seen from the pool house.
The studio building for Dees' wife Susan Starr.
A lounging jacket designed and modeled by Starr.
But back now to where we started, with Dan Savage and some of the violent acts he has espoused, and thankfully backtracked on. Listen to this 2006 interview and hear him say the following:
"[PA Green candidate for US Senate] Carl Romanelli should be dragged behind a pickup truck until there's nothing left but the road," at the 2:41 mark; "Any progressive who votes for a Green anymore after Nader and now RomanelliRomanelli gets back on the ballot, someone should run him over with a truck," at 5:22.
Okay, after I, and a few media critics, called him out on his remarks Savage apologized and confessed to drinking before making his offensive video comments, however, he still salivated for physically bullying Romanelli:
"I regret using that truck metaphor, and didn't mean it literally, and it was in poor taste, and I regret it. Jeezuhs, never have three Hoegardens before someone points a camera at your face. But the Green in the race there is scum, and should be slapped--just slapped--and slapped hard. Not literally, though. No violence."
Can you imagine a teenage antigay bully texting his target victim, writing that he should be slapped hard, and then trying to rationalize the bullying with a weak "I'm only speaking in metaphors" excuse?
Savage has far-reaching influence through his nationally syndicated sex advice column that originated at the Stranger alt weekly where he also blogs, as a contributor to the New York Times op-ed page, frequent talking head on MSNBC and CNN. The latter outlet is where he advocated a political litmus test for who gets to speak about gay issues on that cable station. He's also in control of the "It Gets Better" video effort that has thousands of average citizens, cultural and political leaders including President Barack Obama, endorsing and creating videos for.
He should be careful with his activities because one day, the SPLC might label him a hater and put him on a list of dangerous extremists.
(Hat tip: Bill Dobbs.)
UPDATE: I asked the SPLC to explain the Cayman Islands account and also disclose the amount in it. They sent this reply recently, which does not tell us how much money is in the account:
Michael, The Center has an endowment that was created both to cushion the Center from financial shocks and to provide a secure source of income to support our programs well into the future. The endowment is governed by an independent board of directors and overseen by an investment committee appointed by the board. The investment committee retains the services of a prominent and highly respected financial advisory group that is known in particular for its work with non-profit entities, including universities, hospitals, and foundations. The Center's investment advisors recommend to the investment committee certain fund investments intended to provide the most security for the endowment, while achieving reasonable growth. Some of these funds include alternative equity investments that utilize ³off-shore² accounts, for reasons that would be important to some investors for tax and privacy reasons, but not to many non-profits, such as the Center. These off-shore assets make up an small component of the endowment. Penny Weaver Public Affairs