Politicizing and profiting from hate: Politico looks at Southern Poverty Law Center

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This month Politico Magazine took an in-depth look at a well-known Alabama organization — the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, the Montgomery-based nonprofit that tracks hate groups and crimes across the country has found itself “back into the center of the national conversation, giving the group the kind of potent foil it hasn’t had since the Klan,” reads the article.

According to Politico, since the election, the SPLC says it has more than doubled its Twitter following and has seen its Facebook following move from 650,000 to over a million.

But as Politico points out, the group has a dueling reputation. Many view the SPLC as just another way to earn a buck off of America’s most pressing issues.

“These are the twin legacies of Montgomery’s most famous nonprofit: Since 1971, the SPLC has fought racial discrimination in the South and established itself as the nation’s most prominent hate-group watchdog, most notably winning legal fights that put some of the last nails in the coffin of the Ku Klux Klan. It has also built itself into a civil rights behemoth with a glossy headquarters and a nine-figure endowment, inviting charges that it oversells the threats posed by Klansmen and neo-Nazis to keep donations flowing in from wealthy liberals,” states the article.

SPLC’s Montgomery-based headquarters.

The glossy headquarters the article references is a striking structure in Alabama’s capital city — “a six-story postmodern edifice that could be the outhouse for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao” — filled with over 250 staffers and offices in four states.

The group is largely funded by a massive $200 million endowment. According to the SPLC website, at the end of the past fiscal year, the endowment stood at $302.8 million.

Politico simplifies its point — “fighting racism can be very good business.”

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  1. The SPLC is not “largely funded” by its massive cash endowment (which actually grew from $302 to $319 million last year, 98% of which is classified as “unrestricted.”), but rather directly from its donor base.

    According to last year’s IRS Form 990 tax return, the company took in $58 million in direct donations against $45 million in operating costs (40% of which are for fundraising), leaving the company with a tidy little “non-profit” of $13 million free and clear.

    https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/990_103116.pdf

    While the SPLC continues to do the kind of “poverty law” work it was founded for, such as improving conditions in prisons and impoverished schools, in the early 1980s the company discovered that there was a lot of money to be made by selling “hate groups” to progressive donors.

    “The money poured in,” according to the SPLC’s Randall Williams, quoted in a 1988 cover story in The Progressive magazine. “Everybody, it seems, was against the Klan. We developed a whole new donor base anchored by wealthy Jewish contributors on the East and West Coasts, and they gave big bucks.” In particular, Williams noted, “Our budget shot up tremendously—and still, we were sometimes able to raise as much as $3 million a year more than we could spend.”

    http://wp.me/pCLYZ-N9

    After that, the poverty law work took a distant back seat to the extremely lucrative business of fearmongering, with the Media only too willing to repeat the company’s baseless claims without performing even the most rudimentary fact checks.

    The Politico story is one of the best written on the SPLC in decades.

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