WashPo: 'The Feds Need to Investigate The SPLC's Finances'

Chris Menahan
Apr. 08, 2019

The former managing editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, Jim Tharpe, has called for the Internal Revenue Service and the civil rights division of the Justice Department to investigate the Southern Poverty Law Center's tax-exempt status and shady money practices.

From The Washington Post on April 5:
There's something strange afoot at the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation's richest civil and human rights charities. In March, the center abruptly fired legendary co-founder Morris Dees. [...]

Dees has said little about why he was shown the door after 48 years at the organization he had come to define. But to those of us familiar with the SPLC and its inner workings, the allegations swirling around the latest drama were familiar. The question isn't what went wrong at the SPLC; it is why it took so long for the rest of the country to learn what local reporters already knew. [...]

In February 1994, after three years of research, the Advertiser published an eight-part series titled "Rising Fortunes: Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center" that found a litany of problems and questionable practices at the SPLC, including a deeply troubled history with its relatively few black employees, some of whom reported hearing the use of racial slurs by the organization's staff and others who "likened the center to a plantation"; misleading donors with aggressive direct-mail tactics; exaggerating its accomplishments; spending most of its money not on programs but on raising more money; and paying its top staffers (including Dees and Cohen) lavish salaries.

[...] And yet, based on the details of Dees's ouster, the problems we identified 25 years ago do not appear to have been resolved. [...]

The Internal Revenue Service, which grants the SPLC tax-exempt status, and the civil rights division of the Justice Department would be the best bets to really figure out what's up at the center.

Any investigation should take a close look at the SPLC's finances. It should look at what the center has told donors in its mail solicitations over the years. And it should take a close look at how that donor money has been spent.
Senator Tom Cotton sent a letter to the IRS last week urging them to investigate whether the Southern Poverty Law Center should retain its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3).

"Engaging in systematic defamation is not a tax-exempt purpose," Cotton said. "While IRS guidance lists several examples of tax-exempt purposes, engaging in defamation as a business model is of course not one of them."

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