The Hypocrisy of SPLC

Mar 25, 2019

After the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) fired co-founder Morris Dees on March 13, the longstanding hypocritical behavior of ongoing sexual harassment and racial discrimination have re-surfaced inside the organization. Then, just after 5:00 PM last Friday, Richard Cohen, the president, sent an email to staff submitting his resignation. This is the same SPLC that maliciously labels Christian, pro-family and conservative nonviolent groups as “hate groups” in order to advance its enormous fundraising efforts while misleading its donors into thinking the SPLC needs the funds in order to advance justice.

The Los Angeles Times and the Alabama Political Reporter reported that Dees’ removal had come amid a staff revolt over racial and sexual harassment allegations of nonwhite and female staffers. The catalyst was the resignation of the senior attorney Meredith Horton, SPLC’s highest-ranking black woman. In an internal email to the organization’s legal department announcing her departure, Horton suggested the center needed to create a more inclusive work environment and noted the hardships women and employees of color faced at SPLC.

“As a woman of color, the experiences of staff of color and female staff have been particularly important to me ... and we recognize that there is more work to do in the legal department and across the organization to ensure that SPLC is a place where everyone is heard and respected and where the values we are committed to pursuing externally are also being practiced internally,” Horton wrote.

The New Yorker recently published an essay from Bob Moser, a former writer with the SPLC who now writes for Rolling Stone. Moser stated “that a number of staffers subsequently signed onto two letters of protest to the center’s leadership, alleging that multiple reports of sexual harassment by Dees through the years had been ignored or covered up, and sometimes resulted in retaliation against the women making the claims.”

“The staffers wrote that Dees’ firing was welcome but insufficient: their larger concern, they emphasized, was a widespread pattern of racial and gender discrimination by the center’s current leadership, stretching back many years. If Cohen and other senior leaders thought that they could shunt the blame, the riled-up staffers seem determined to prove them wrong. One of my former female colleagues told me that she didn’t want to go into details of her harassment for this story, because she believes the focus should be on the SPLC’s current leadership,” said Moser.

“Incoming female staffers were additionally warned by their new colleagues about Dees’ reputation for hitting on young women. And the unchecked power of the lavishly compensated white men at the top of the organization—Dees and the center’s president, Richard Cohen—made staffers pessimistic that any of these issues would ever be addressed,” said Moser.

Moser also stated that the SPLC was “ripping off donors” while turning a blind eye to sexual harassment and racial discrimination within its own ranks. He said the SPLC is a “highly profitable scam” that “never lived up to the values it espoused and SPLC employees were aware that donors were being misled about the SPLC’s mission.” He said, “the guilt you couldn’t help feeling about the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well, to do the Lord’s work in the heart of Dixie. We were part of the con, and we knew it.” 

During his first few weeks of employment, a co-worker told Moser, “Well, honey, welcome to the Poverty Palace. I can guarantee [sic] that you will never step foot in a more contradictory place as long as you live.”

The Montgomery Advertiser reminded readers on March 16 that in its 1994 investigative series on the SPLC the entire SPLC staff resigned in 1985 over the fundraising tactics of Dees, and racial discrimination goes back to at least 1994.

Late Friday, Cohen, who has been with SPLC since 1986 and has served as its president since 2003, submitted his resignation by email. He wrote, “Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them.”

The SPLC, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt “charitable” organization, recently reported more than half a billion dollars in assets, including $121 million in off-shore funds. According to research done by Joe Schoffstall of The Washington Free Beacon, the SPLC reported total assets of $518 million from November 2017 to Oct. 31, 2018, an increase of $41 million from the $477 million it reported in 2017. By the end of 2018, its non-U.S. equity funds rose to $121 million, a drastic increase of nearly $30 million from the $92 million in 2017 it has parked in offshore foreign accounts in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

The SPLC states it has a staff of 75 lawyers who practice in the area of children's rights, economic justice, immigrant justice, LGBT rights, and criminal justice reform, but reported spending only $61,000 on legal services in 2015. However, the group spent $20 million on salaries in 2015 where the minimum amount paid to an officer, director, trustee, or key employee in 2015 was $140,000 in base salary, not including other compensation. The president and chief executive officer were given $346,218 in base compensation and $20,000 more in other reportable compensation and non-taxable benefits in 2015 and SPLC's chief trial counsel received a salary of $329,560 with $42,000 in additional reportable compensation and non-taxable benefits. 

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