Archive for February, 2013

A Tale of Two SPLCs

February 7, 2013

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “serendipity” as:

“The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

In short, looking for one thing and finding something else that you weren’t expecting. It happens to everyone at some time or other and it can be quite rewarding when it does.

As long-time readers of this blog know, we get the vast majority of our information about the Southern Poverty Law Center from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC’s web site is a treasure trove of information on the organization’s hiring, fundraising and public relations practices.

As long-time web surfers know, a fairly reliable shortcut to finding many web sites is simply to type in the name of an organization with a “.com” or “.org” appended to the end. If you try this trick with, however, you will be rewarded with a serendipitous trip to an entirely different SPLC web site.

In this case, you will be directed to the site of the Student Press Law Center, located in Northern Virginia. Apparently, these folks registered their domain name before their Alabama counterparts, who had to settle for instead.

Actually, “counterparts” is misleading as you would be hard pressed to identify two law centers with such diametrically opposite missions.

Since the primary mission of the Southern Poverty Law Center appears to be fundraising, we’ll call it the $PLC, for short, and use SPLC to refer to the Student Press Law Center, which operates on a fraction of the $PLC’s annual budget.

The primary mission of the SPLC, as you might imagine, is to serve as a resource and advocate for student publications from elementary school through to colleges and universities.

The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech, and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.

Did you catch the reference to First Amendment rights? This is the foundation and basis for all of the Student Press Law Center’s work. For those who are a little rusty on the First Amendment, as the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to be, it goes like this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Imagine, a law center dedicated to preserving the most fundamental civil rights in the U.S. Constitution. Compare that with the $PLC’s take on the First Amendment rights of those groups its donors find objectionable:

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.

Instead of promoting and protecting the First Amendment rights of people to assemble peaceably and to speak, write and publish their own thoughts and opinions, the $PLC conflates those rights with “hate group” activities and “criminal acts.”

Even the entirely spurious term “hate group” is nothing more than a blatant attempt to silence people engaged in entirely legal and protected activities. Who, after all, would listen to anything a “hate group” has to say?

Those who would petition their own elected government for redress are smeared as “far right-wing, anti-government radicals.” Those concerned with their government’s response to the  millions of people who flaunt US law and enter the country illegally are “nativists” and those hold conservative religious beliefs are tarred as “radical traditionalists.” (As we recently noted, the $PLC contends that “Modern Americans” have abandoned Christianity…)

In short, if there is a Constitutionally protected civil right, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a smear for it.

The $PLC maintains a “Hate Map” fundraising tool a “Stand Strong Against Hate” map that also allows donors to “report hate incidents” directly to the $PLC for inclusion in the dossiers they compile and send to every law enforcement agency in the land. Note the term “hate incidents” as opposed to “hate crimes.” Watching the Watchdogs created a short video that uncovers the fast and loose accounting behind that scam:

The Student Press Law Center maintains an interactive map as well, only this one identifies areas where bigots have attempted to censor the press by stealing newspapers from newsstands. These are actual civil rights violations, (more than half a million papers stolen since 2000), in which the First Amendment rights of both the publishers and the readers were denied by ignorant vigilantes.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

So at the end of the day we have two law centers with the same initials but absolutely nothing else in common. The Student Press Law Center fights to preserve and protect people’s most fundamental First Amendment rights while the Southern Poverty Law Center is hell-bent on censorship and denying those same civil rights to those they designate as having “wrong thoughts” and smear with dehumanizing labels such as “hate group.”

While the mission of the Student Press Law Center is to protect all forms of expression, even those that some may find offensive, here’s what the $PLC’s $150,000-dollar-a-year Public Relations Chief Mark Potok had to say about the rights of all citizens to free speech and freedom of association back in 2007:

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that these are human beings and it’s a mistake to regard them as just a bunch of sociopaths… though most of them are.”

“Let me say… our aim… sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate groups and so on. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups. Completely destroy them.”

These are American citizens engaging in entirely legal free speech activities and the “nation’s leading civil rights organization” wants to “completely destroy them.” You don’t have to agree with anything these groups have to say, most people don’t, but you cannot arbitrarily deny them their rights to free speech or it’s only a matter of time before the $PLC or some other self-appointed vigilante group decides that you have “wrong thoughts” and need to be “completely destroyed.”

Mark Potok, this veritable paragon of civil rights makes both of these telling comments within the first two minutes of the video below. What’s even more ironic is that Mr. Potok began his career as journalist back in the 1990s. Apparently, the $PLC pays better than USA Today. It’s amazing what people are willing to sell for a few pieces of silver.



The $PLC has nearly a quarter-billion dollars in cash on hand while the SPLC does actual good in the world on just over 1% of that bloated trove.

The Student Press Law Center also offers an online First Amendment quiz. that everyone should take, especially the would-be civil libertarians at the $PLC.

Mr. Potok, what was your score?

SPLC – Some donors are “better” than others

February 6, 2013

**** Update, Feb., 23, 2013 **** A week and a half ago we noted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s continuing recruitment for its multi-million dollar fundraising juggernaut. A mere ten days has passed since the SPLC advertised for a “Development Associate” and now they’re looking for a “Planned Giving Officer” to scout out those elderly donors who are nearing death.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Six months ago they were recruiting for an “On-line Fundraising Coordinator” and before that it was for a “Regional Advancement Director.”

If only the SPLC’s civil rights division grew as reliably as its massive fundraising machine. When’s the last time they advertised for a civil rights attorney or an advocate for the homeless?


[Original post Feb. 13, 2013] As we’ve mentioned frequently on this blog, the primary business of the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to raising cash, especially as reflected by the rather paltry endeavors documented in the SPLC’s case docket. Lots of low-hanging cases dealing with illegal aliens, underfunded schools in Mississippi and now even a copyright infringement and a consumer fraud case.

For the most part, “fighting hate” it ain’t, but the donors don’t seem to realize it. In 2011 they sent the SPLC more than $4,400 tax-free donor dollars each and every hour.

That kind of money requires a bit of effort to solicit, collect and count and so the SPLC recently placed a help wanted ad for a “Development Associate.”

SPLC Best Donors

Click image to enlarge

The job description states that the successful applicant: “Under general supervision, receives, screens, answers correspondence, and updates donor gift records,” which is pretty standard fare. A couple of the “Primary Job Functions” are worth noting:

“Provides friendly and courteous customer service to SPLC’s best donors”

Best donors“? Some SPLC donors are better than others? Hmmm. Makes you wonder what the criteria are to make the cut? Is there a lower-level flunky who deals with the second-rate donors?

“Maintains and updates donor demographic and gift records using a sophisticated database system”

Well, many “non-profits” gather donor demographics to try to distill out the “best donors,” so that’s nothing new, though you wonder if the donors realize that they’re being sorted and classified at the SPLC by their potential donor-dollar value?

It is also encouraging to see that the SPLC has finally scraped up enough to get a “sophisticated database.” Such was not always the case. A couple anecdotes regarding  direct-mail millionaire and SPLC founder Morris Dees’ less sophisticated methods are as entertaining as they are instructive:

“Dees’s fundraising tactics are as varied as they are creative. In a 1985 fundraising letter to zip codes where many Jewish residents lived, he made conspicuous use of his Jewish-sounding middle name, Seligman, in his signature at the end of the document.”

“Attorney Tom Turnipseed, a former Dees associate, recounts how, on another occasion, Dees distributed a fundraising letter with “about six different stamps” affixed to the return envelope, so as to make it appear that “they had to cobble them all together to come up with 35 cents.”

At the time, the SPLC had more than $65 million in cash reserves on hand.

Speaking of cash reserves, most donors are equally ignorant of just how much money the SPLC already has over and above the $106,000 a day they take in by taking in the donors (of all quality levels). The SPLC’s annual report notes that:

The SPLC builds for the future by setting aside a certain amount of its income for an endowment, a practice begun in 1974 to plan for the day when nonprofits like the SPLC can no longer afford to solicit support through the mail because of rising postage and printing costs.

In 1999, Mr. Dees predicted that when the SPLC’s “Endowment Fund,” (Recently renamed the “Morris Dees Legacy Fund”), reached the $100,000 million dollar mark he would cease all of that expensive fund raising (about 19% of his annual budget, on average) and “live off the interest.”

The fund reached $100 million in 2002, but the fund raising machine kept chugging away. The fund reached $200 million in 2007 but Mr. Dees is only expanding his fund raising department, as this most recent job opening indicates.

Meanwhile, the costs of soliciting money have decreased substantially due to the advent of the Internet and e-mail, though studies show that at least one donor demographic, the elderly, still prefer stamp-and-letter snail mail. No doubt these folks make up a substantial, though actuarially dwindling, segment of Mr. Dees’ “best donors.”

At last count, Mr. Dees’ legacy stood at just under $224 million. The SPLC will release its financial records for 2012 in a few weeks. It’s always interesting to see how much poverty there is at the law center.

Stay tuned for those numbers as they become available.

SPLC- “Modern Americans” have abandoned Christianity??

February 3, 2013

When you have read the fundraising rhetoric of the Southern Poverty Law Center for as long as we have at Watching the Watchdogs it is quite understandable how one’s eyes can glaze over from page after page of imminent non-threats and ad nauseum guilt-by-association associations, but every once in a while you come across something that can still make your eyes pop.

Under the “Neo-Confederate” section of SPLC Public Relations chief Mark Potok’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool we find this astounding statement:

“…[N]eo-Confederacy claims to pursue Christianity and heritage and other supposedly fundamental values that modern Americans are seen to have abandoned.”

Did you catch that? Modern Americans have abandoned the supposedly fundamental values of Christianity. How ’bout that?

Granted, Mr. Potok earns his six-digit salary by tailoring his fundraising rhetoric to his audience, and many of his donors were never big adherents to the tenets of Christianity to begin with, but Mr. Potok’s company still takes in tens of millions of dollars every year from well-meaning and very devout Christian donors.

Will Mr. Potok begin cutting refund checks to those poor, misguided souls anytime soon? Don’t wait up.

Arguably one of Mr. Potok’s weakest “hate group” claims, the miniscule “Neo-Confederate” movement, (a term coined by PR man Potok), represents no threat whatsoever to anyone, but came in extremely handy a few years ago when Mr. Potok was desperately scrounging around for new “hate groups” to add to his Hate Map. In one stroke, the Maestro was able to add 25 chapters of “The League of the South” to the map so that the number of Potokian designated “hate groups” would go up once again.

If only the Confederacy would rise as predictably as Mr. Potok’s “hate group” numbers he might actually have a point. In the meantime, don’t expect much in the way of secessionist movements to catch on with the public. Bobby Lee and ol’ Jeb Stuart ain’t a-comin’ back anytime soon.

That the “Neo-Confederate” movement is microscopic and poses no threat to the Republic or even the Public is of no significance to Mr. Potok, however. As Potok has stated on numerous occasions: “A ‘hate group’ has nothing to do with criminality or violence or even the potential for violence. It’s all about ideology.” And ideology is Mr. Potok’s meat and potatoes.

Observe how, in one sentence, Potok presents an insignificant ideology as some sort of existential threat, links it to conservatives and the Republican Party, and then links Republicans with “white nationalists” and “other radical extremists.”

Overall, it [“Neo-Confederate” doctrine] is a reactionary conservative ideology that has made inroads into the Republican Party from the political right, and overlaps with the views of white nationalists and other more radical extremist groups.

As a long-time student of Communications, persuasion and public relations techniques, this writer tips his hat to a true master of the art. This one sentence is glorious in its simplicity, its clean, uncluttered language. “Has made inroads…” and “overlaps with the views…” Exquisitely implied associations without having to produce a single shred of verifiable evidence. Was ever there a sonnet or haiku poem so meticulously crafted out of so very little?

I’m tempted to write Mr. Potok a check, myself. Bravo, Maestro! Bravo!

%d bloggers like this: