Archive for the ‘Fund-raising’ Category

SPLC — Doubling down on the “Trump Effect”

November 29, 2016

In February of this year, Watching the Watchdogs reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s thinly disguised attack on then-candidate Donald Trump that claimed that “election-related” harassment of immigrant and minority children was surging in the public schools due to Trump’s caustic rhetoric. They called the report “The Trump Effect.”

At that time we noted that the SPLC, like all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, was strictly prohibited by IRS tax regulations from promoting or denouncing political candidates during a campaign. The SPLC slid around that regulation by claiming that it had “collected 5,000 comments from 2,000 educators” who responded to an online survey created by the company’s “Teaching Tolerance” wing, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom.

See, it wasn’t the SPLC attacking Trump, they were simply repeating what they were told by the 2,000 respondents. Get it?

As usual, the Media obediently regurgitated the SPLC’s nonsense without performing even the most rudimentary fact checks, with many of them transmogrifying the company’s claim of “2,000 respondents” into “a survey of 2,000 teachers” and the term “harassment” into “hate crimes.”

What most media outlets conveniently ignored was the clearly stated disclaimer on the “Trump Effect” web page that:

“Our survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers was not scientific. Our email subscribers and those who visit our website are not a random sample of teachers nationally and those who chose to respond to our survey are likely to be those who are most concerned about the impact of the presidential campaign on their students and schools.”

Not only did the SPLC publicly state that their “survey” was not scientific because the respondents were not chosen at random, they can’t even verify that the alleged responses came from actual “educators.”

The same document also notes that “Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to over 400,000 educators, reaching nearly every school in the country,” and yet the entire “report” is based on only 2,000 anonymous, unverifiable responses?

Either 398,000 “educators” ignored the survey email or the SPLC cherry-picked 2,000 “reliable” people who would give the “right answers.”

Either way, given the widespread media coverage given the “Trump Effect” the reaction among the donors must have been fantastic.

Never one to let a good thing go, on November 28, the SPLC doubled down on its “Trump Effect” cash cow by releasing a new and improved version of the “report,” this time freed from any IRS election-related restrictions.

The new report now claims that “Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded,” with “more than 25,000 comments.”

As if stung by Watching the Watchdogs‘ observation that all of the alleged responses in the first “report” were anecdotal, anonymous and completely unverifiable, the company made a point of claiming that:

“Nearly all respondents identified themselves by name, email address, grade level and state. More than 1,500 signified a willingness to go on record by giving permission for Teaching Tolerance to share their contact information with the media.”

Despite this apparent willingness to actually document their claims, the 2.0 version of the “Trump Effect” is accompanied by alleged claims by the anonymous likes of “High School Teacher, New York,” and “Elementary School Teacher, Minnesota.” There’s not a single claim backed up the willing 1,500 mentioned above.

And while the company buried its disclaimer a little deeper into the text this time, the song remains the same:

“The results of this survey are not scientific. The respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not.”

Once again, the “report” duly notes that “Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to more than 400,000 educators, reaching nearly every school in the country,” and yet only 10,000 “educators” allegedly responded.

It’s worth noting that the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there were more than 3.5 million full-time teachers in the US in 2014, the latest statistical year, meaning that less than three-tenths of a percent of them responded to the SPLC’s open “survey,” anonymously or otherwise. You do the math.

In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. The Media is already regurgitating the SPLC’s “10,000 educator” claims as fact the day after the “report” was released. Even though the company clearly states that its numbers are “not scientific” and has yet to produce one single verifiable respondent, the Media will repeat every last claim as if it were true.

Well played, SPLC. No doubt we’ll see record-breaking donation figures in your next IRS Form 990, as well as much-deserved raises in the six-digit salaries your all-white executives are pulling down.

In the meantime, Watching The Watchdogs will continue to watch and to document your latest fundraising antics. You read it here first.

 

SPLC — Great “Wall of Tolerance” Scam

April 4, 2016

Last October, we first noted that one of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s most cynical fundraising gimmicks, its long-running “Stand Strong Against Hate” map was conspicuously absent from the company’s web site.

The gimmick was elegant in its simplicity. By simply clicking a link on the SPLC web site you could demonstrate your commitment to “stand strong against hate,” and to “stop the racist backlash from infecting your community.”

StandStrong

Click Image to Enlarge

In return for nothing more than your name, address and email address, you fought the good fight by becoming a digital pinhead on an interactive map. By moving the cursor over your pinhead your first name and last initial would pop up magically.

“Bob J., Chicago”

How exactly this “stood up to hate” was never explained. In the meantime, your personal contact information went into the SPLC’s massive database, where it would be added to the company’s mailing list and turned over to their growing team of professional fundraisers.

As mentioned, it was a simple but effective gag, and no doubt brought in a lot of new donors and donor dollars, but the company seems to have retired it in 2015.

Today we stumbled across a parallel SPLC fundraising ploy that is every bit as simplistic as the “Stand Strong Against Hate” ploy, but takes the game to a whole higher level.

In this morning’s RSS roundup of articles about the SPLC was a press release written by one of those “exclusive” public relations outfits that target individuals, usually professionals, offering to polish up and pad out their resumés, in exchange for an exclusive fee.

This particular gentleman is an attorney, practicing law somewhere Down South. We’re going to change his name here to protect his identity, but the final line of his press release reads:

“In 2005, Mr. Smith was awarded the Wall of Tolerance Certificate by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

We are embarrassed to admit that, even after “tracking” and studying all things SPLC for the past seven years, we had never heard of the company’s “Wall of Tolerance” and had to learn more about it.

Our first thought, quite naturally, was that, like most nonprofit fundraising ventures, which might feature a “Golden Circle” or “Leadership Club” tier for their top donors, the SPLC was simply recognizing Mr. Smith for handing over the big bucks year after year.

But we were wrong…

According to the SPLC website:

“The Wall of Tolerance digitally displays the names of more than half a million people who have pledged to take a stand against hate and work for justice and tolerance in their daily lives.  Their names flow continuously down the 20-by-40 foot wall within the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama.”

Wall of Tolerance

In order to get your name on this auspicious digital billboard you must first swear a solemn oath:

By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights – the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.

Half a million people have taken this pledge to honor “the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died,” or did they?

While searching for information about the Wall of Tolerance we came across this blog post on the Democratic Underground website in which Mr. Joshua Allenberg expressed surprise to have received the same certificate of appreciation and had his name added to the wall, even though he’d never heard of the award and wasn’t even sure when, or even if, he had made a contribution to the SPLC. If he had, it wasn’t much.

At any rate, he never took a pledge, solemn or otherwise. Maybe getting on the wall is easier than it seems.

I just got an envelope in the mail addressed from author Toni Morrison. Enclosed was a form letter, a solicitation for a donation, and a Certificate of Appreciation. Now I typically donate 20 bucks here and there from organizations who send me mail, and I kind of lose track. So, what I got is:

Certificate of Appreciation
presented to 
Joshua Allenberg

In recognition of an important contribution to the ongoing fight against hatred and intolerance in America. The name shown above will be added to the Wall of Tolerance in Montgomery, Alabama, to provide inspiration to all of those who choose to take a stand against hatred.

Thank you for taking a stand.

Morris Dees, Founder
Southern Poverty Law Center

Does anybody know where this came from? 

The answer was swift in coming when several other posters figured out that the SPLC got Mr. Allenberg’s name from a mailing list purchased from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Mr. Allenberg’s certificate was signed by SPLC founder Morris Dees and author Toni Morrison. Earlier iterations of the document were co-signed by Rosa Parks.

The certificates are accompanied by several sheets of return address stickers bearing the honoree’s name and address, one of the oldest fundraising gimmicks in the book, but still quite effective among that segment of the population that still sends a lot of snail mail, i.e., the elderly.

Directly below Mr. Allenberg’s web post was a piece by SOFII, the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration, an organization that rates and reviews fundraising pitches. Here are a few of the more telling comments about the Wall of Tolerance campaign:

SOFII’s view

The Southern Poverty Law Center, who launched this campaign, is a hugely impressive organisation with a long and well-deserved reputation for effective donor development.

Though we don’t have the results, we think we can presume that this direct mail capital appeal must have worked really very well.

Merits

This is one of the most moving and long-lasting donor involvement campaigns in the USA and represents some of the best that the direct marketer’s art can produce.

“Some of the best that the direct marketer’s art can produce.” And why not, the man behind this PR campaign is none other than Morris Dees, who made millions in the direct mail-order business in the 1960s before opening the SPLC.

In 1998, Dees was inducted into the Direct Marketing Association’s “Hall of Fame,” not for his civil rights work, but rather for his prowess in direct mail fundraising. Mr. Dees is an undisputed master of the sales pitch.

We have to admit that it’s impressive to see and definitely as fine an example of a master-level fundraising tool as we’ve ever seen, as this short Youtube video demonstrates. You gotta admire the craftsmanship:

 

 

While the video notes how people can add their names directly to the wall from SPLC’s civil rights theme park, no mention is made of whether one’s contact information is a prerequisite for the honor, but if SPLC history is any guide, you can make book on it.

Another direct mail fundraising industry web site, DonorPowerBlog.com had this to say about the Wall of Tolerance “donor acquisition kit”:

“Can you overdo recognition of a donor? I don’t think so. There’s a donor acquisition kit out there that tries.”

One final example of just how cynical this marketing ploy is was demonstrated by one other web posting in our search results. Marcus Epstein posted on the VDARE website that he too had been honored by the SPLC for his “important contribution in the ongoing fight against hatred and intolerance in America”

Not only does the SPLC consider the VDARE website so heinous that it deserves its own page on the company’s website, but Mr. Epstein himself, that great benefactor and paragon in the “ongoing fight against hatred” was found worthy of an entire article by the SPLC’s own Heidi Beirich, for allegedly being an arch-racist, and yet he is eminently qualified to be enshrined for all time on the company’s Wall of Tolerance.

Apparently anyone with a postal address can receive a “Wall of Tolerance” certificate and get their name on the electronic billboard in the hope that they will make that crucial first donation.

So much for pledging to support the “ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.”

What an exclusive honor.

SPLC — 2016 Telemarketing Scam

March 22, 2016

Continuing a trend that Watching the Watchdogs first uncovered last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center has once again duped tens of thousands of new donors out of their money through the use of third-party telemarketers.

Page 40 of the SPLC’s IRS Form 990 tax return for 2015 shows that, once again, the company paid far more to the telemarketers than was raised in donations.

grassroots2015

Once again, the big winner was Grassroots Campaign, Inc., which was paid $2,028,857 to raise only $757,182, for a resulting loss to the SPLC of $1,271,675 donor-dollars right off the top.

One would think that such a discrepancy would horrify the frugal bean-counters at the SPLC, but in fact, just the opposite is true, based on Grassroots’ past performance.

2011:  -$212,214

2012:  -$869,686

2013: -$1,156,765

2014:  -$1,130,680

Overall, the SPLC seems mighty pleased with Grassroots’ efforts.

Not only was last year’s Grassroots deficit a new record high, it once again completely consumed every last dime raised by Telefund and Harris Marketing Group, meaning that all $1,514,365 dollars raised by all three firms, in the name of the Southern Poverty Law Center, went right back to the telemarketers, as well as another $969,474 right out of the SPLC’s existing donor pot.

So how many donors got scammed out of their money over the phone in 2015? At $25 dollars a pop, which seems fair for a first-time donation amount, only 60,575 well-meaning people who truly believed they were somehow “fighting hate.”

That’s over 60,000 people in just one year and that doesn’t include the 38,779 long-time donors who sent the SPLC their cash directly, for a grand total of 99,354 suckers for 2015 alone.

Over the past four years, the SPLC has sent more than 382,000 $25-dollar donations straight to the telemarketers.

But wait! There’s more! First of all, it’s not hard to figure out who the telemarketers are reaching by phone, if you think about it. Most cell phone numbers are not listed, most listed telephones are landlines, and most landlines today are owned by older people.

And how can the SPLC justify this horrific hemorrhaging of much-needed cash year after year? Well, that’s simple too, as the telemarketers actually sell the donors’ personal information to the SPLC, which then feeds the data directly into its own uber-efficient, in-house fundraising machine.

The SPLC takes a hit this year, (which is paid for by long-time donors), but next year, and the year after that, and the decades after that, every dime goes directly into the company’s crowded coffers. Last year they took in more than $54 million in tax free donations on top of their $302 million dollar endowment fund.

In the long run, these telemarketer tactics are not illegal, lots of other big name non-profits do the same thing. And for the 382,000 donors who paid the telemarketers to sell their information to the SPLC, “ignorance is bliss,” as they have no idea what the SPLC does with their money anyhow. They wrote out those checks willingly, convincing themselves that that was all they had to do to “fight hate.” They pretty much got what they were paying for.

If there is one bright note, it’s that the other two telemarketers, Telefund and Harris, actually turned over more of the money they solicited over the phone in 2015. In 2014, Telefund skimmed a mere 75% off the top of each donation. Last year they only pocketed 64% of the take.

Harris Marketing Group, after taking an incredible 90% cut of every donation in 2014, must have felt some genuine remorse, as they only took a 40% share of the pie this year.

Maybe there is hope for these people after all.

 

SPLC — Hate Map 2016 — Incredible… Literally

March 16, 2016

It’s March again, meaning that the Southern Poverty Law Center has released its latest “Hate Map” fundraising tool, and as always, Watching the Watchdogs is ready to have a look at the numbers, something nobody in the Media or government seems to want to do.

First, the usual warnings, definitions, provisos, etc.

  1. When the SPLC releases its Hate Map fundraising tool it refers to the alleged count for the previous year. In short, the 2016 Hate Map reflects the totals claimed for 2015.
  2. There is no legal definition for “hate group,” meaning that even the FBI does not, cannot designate “hate groups,” but somehow a private “advocacy group” can, and does, at will.
  3. Even the SPLC doesn’t have an actual definition for “hate group,” beyond the claim that “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”In other words, “Hate groups say mean things about other groups.”

     

  4. The SPLC makes no linkage between “hate groups” and hate crime. Mark Potok, the company’s Public Relations guru has gone on the record repeatedly to say that “Our criteria for a “hate group,” first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.

That being said, let’s dig into the 2016 Hate Map. Fresh tripe, anyone?

All good things must come to an end and it is true of the Hate Map’s recent downward trend. Over the past few years the “hate group” count has been on a steep and steady decline, despite Mr. Potok’s dire predictions of “explosive growth” in the number of “hate groups” due to the election of President Obama and the tanking economy.

Hate Groups 2015

Source: SPLC

Initially, we attributed the drop to Mr. Potok’s successor at the helm of the Hate Map, Dr. Heidi Beirich, who is no doubt wise enough to realize that Potok’s ludicrous claims of ever-increasing “hate groups” were due to collapse under their own ridiculous weight. The recent rise, however, may point to other causes.

Endowment 2015

According to the SPLC’s most recent IRS Form 990, the company’s cash-on-hand Endowment Fund, which enjoyed an increase of 94% since the election of President Obama and despite the tanking economy, went flat last year, showing the first loss since Bernie Madoff moved into public housing.

It seems that the $8 million-dollar “non-profit” the company enjoyed last year, over and above operating costs, was nearly entirely consumed by an $8 million-dollar investment loss on the Endowment Fund, which actually contracted by a few thousand dollars.

What to do when profits are down? Goose the Golden “hate group” Goose, maybe? It has always brought home the bacon in the past, as the graph indicates.

We’ll speculate more on the Endowment Fund in an upcoming post. Let’s get back to the Hate Map.

Of the 892 “hate groups” the SPLC is claiming for last year, it provides exactly no information a journalist or researcher could use to verify the data. We know these groups are really, really out there because Mr. Potok tells us they are out there. Honest.

In fact, Potok and Beirich haven’t even bothered to come up with a location for 175 of the alleged groups, or 20% of the total. This embarrassing gap of “hate groups” unaffiliated with any known city or town is merely the latest in a very long history.

In 2011, 247 of Potok’s 1017 alleged groups were not affiliated with any known city or town, or 22% of the total. In 2012 it was 195 out of 1007, (19%), and 137 out of 784 groups in 2013, (17%). In 2014, 194 of the 734 alleged groups could not be located on any map, (26%). 

And yet, friends, the Media and the government swallow these “hard facts” as fast as Mr. Potok can whip them up.

And Mr. Potok doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t have to. When Watching the Watchdogs had the opportunity in 2011 to ask Mr. Potok directly about the accuracy of his “hate group” numbers, on camera, the he was amazingly candid in admitting that his figures were “anecdotal,” “an imperfect process” and “a very rough estimate.”

Speaking of rough estimates, last year Potok attributed 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, giving it the fourth highest total in the country and leading Mark Pitcavage, Mr. Potok’s opposite number at the Anti-Defamation League, to tell the newspapers that “The SPLC’s counts are wildly inflated. They claim groups where there are none, or just one or two individuals.”

It’s pretty sad when you own brother-in-arms calls you a liar, Mr. Potok.

But numbers don’t lie. Or do they? After being publicly outed by the ADL, Mr. Potok magically reduced New Jersey’s “hate group” total from 40 to 21 overnight, mostly by simply erasing 14 out of 15 chapters of the “AC Skins” off the chart with his shirtsleeve.

AC Skins

Not to worry. Mr. Potok loses “groups” all the time. In 2015, his Hate Map warned us that 8 chapters each of the Free America Rally and the White Boy Society were out to get us, not that he could identify a single city or town where these threats to society were lurking. By 2016, not so much.

Free America

Sixteen desperate “hate groups” magically disappeared overnight.

The Council of Conservative Citizens had a rough year, losing more than half of its chapters with the click of a mouse. Fortunately, St. Louis is still conservative enough to keep two distinct chapters up and running.

CCC

And while the number of known chapters of the Aryan Strikeforce “exploded” by a phenomenal 100% last year (from 1 to 2!!), the number of unaffiliated chapters dropped by 39%, from 18 to 11.

2016 Strikeforce

A similar tale for the Aryan Terror Brigade. “Explosive growth” of 100% in known locations (from 0 to 1), but “terror”-izing shrinkage in the number of unaffiliated groups from 16 to 2. A drop of 88%!!

2016 Terror

Things are a little better for the National Socialist Movement (though we still can’t get this one all in a single image). While the number of known chapters has dropped by three, the number of unaffiliated chapters is holding rock steady at 29.

NSM1

NSM2

Seriously, folks. Mr. Potok cannot locate 29 out of 46 alleged chapters of the NSM, that’s nearly TWO OUT OF THREE, friends, and yet Potok still counts ’em and the Media, and more importantly, the donors, still believe it.

In the same online interview in which Mr. Potok talks about ideology (linked above), he makes this comment:

“I think a lot of people feel, ‘Oh, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they find, you know, the two hundred Nazis running around the country, they build them up into great big groups, they make a big deal about it and then ask for your money,’ right? In other words, it’s kind of a scam. You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.”

Well, Mr. Potok? YOU’RE the guy who put a chapter of the NSM in nearly every state but cannot locate two-thirds of them on your own map. What are rational people supposed to think?

This is the same interview where Mr. Potok makes this telling statement:

“People think, you know, that it’s all about, sort of, defending poor people, and that’s not really, exactly what our mission is.”

Well, gee, Mr. Potok. Where in the world would people get that idea? It definitely didn’t come from us.

 Obviously, you can’t rack up loss after loss and still claim “a 14% increase” for this year, so let’s see where some of this growth occurred.

While Mr. Potok mislaid six of the Original Knight Riders chapters he had located previously, he made up for it by adding twice as many empty slots to the count.

Original

Thirty-one chapters of the United White Knights made their debut this year.

United

And the Texas Knights picked up 21 new chapters.

Texas

Interestingly, 13 communities picked up one of each. Maybe the Klan is getting into franchising. You open a McDonald’s on one street corner and before you know it, someone is building a Burger King across the street.

Both

Speaking of franchises, while the Blood and Honour skinhead organization took an 80% hit last year…

BloodAndHonour

…Thirteen chapters of the Blood and Honour Social Club popped up out of nowhere. Actually, it looks like 12 of those new chapters are still nowhere. Still, a “social club” has a real franchise chain ring to it, like an Applebee’s or a Hooters.

BandHSocial

The list goes on and on and these incredible gaps and gaffes are right out in the open where anyone with an interest can find them. All we did was copy the data from the Hate Map webpage and dump it into a spreadsheet. Rocket science this is not.

We’ll leave you with one last factoid that gets dutifully buried in every new iteration of the Hate Map fundraising tool, the breakdown of the threats to the nation by category:

BlackSeparatist

As we have noted here over the past few years, when you break the largest groupings down by category and strip out the unaffiliated phantoms, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the biggest category of “hate group” in the nation is once again Black.

How many donors realize that when they send in their money?

Not only do Black “hate groups” significantly out number every other category, respectively, according to Mr. Potok’s numbers, but 80 of those chapters are from the Nation of Islam, a decidedly Muslim organization, meaning that Muslim “hate groups” outnumber Anti-Muslim groups by more than two to one.

And if you look at Mr. Potok’s rag-tag bunch of Anti-Muslim groups they are almost entirely one-man websites, something the SPLC claims it doesn’t count. The one notable exception, and our personal favorite, is Casa D’Ice… which is actually an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. “Oh, the humanity!”

SPLC Violates its Tax-Free Status… Again

February 23, 2016

On February 18, 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center released the Spring issue of its Intelligence Report, including this year’s “hate map” fundraising tool, which we will dissect shortly (Spoiler Alert: Nothing has changed.)

Featured prominently on the front page of the magazine is an image of Donald Trump next to the banner “The Year in Hate and Extremism.”

SPLC Trump

Trump is surrounded by images of last year’s murderous psychopaths and lunatics, as well as the Confederate flag. The ham-fisted imagery couldn’t be clearer.

Somewhere, Saul Alinsky is either having a good laugh or shaking his head in dismay.

The point here is, whether you support Donald Trump or despise him, he is still a registered candidate for public office. As such, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, like the SPLC, are expressly prohibited from “from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” by the Internal Revenue Service.

The exact text reads as follows:

The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes. 

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances.  For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

The SPLC, which gave up all pretenses of being a civil rights organization in 2014, didn’t pay a dime of taxes on the $54 million in donations it took in last year (or any year, since 1971), or on the $302 million tax-free dollars in the company’s bloated “Endowment Fund.”

The company now refers to itself as “an advocacy group” in its press releases and other fundraising materials. It’s time for the IRS to revoke the SPLC’s tax-exempt status, once and for all, for this and other flagrant violations of the 501(c)(3) guidelines.

SPLC — Where Have “Potok’s Pinheads” Gone?

October 30, 2015

As part of our ongoing effort to “track” the public relations and fundraising tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center it has recently come to our attention that one of the most cynical and dubious features of the company’s website is conspicuously absent.

We first reported on the SPLC’s “Stand Strong Against Hate” map in November, 2009, the brain child, no doubt of the company’s Senior Fellow and Public Relations Chief, Mark Potok.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

In exchange for nothing more than your first and last name, zip code and email address, you too could become a digital pinhead on Mr. Potok’s map, “adding yourself as a voice of tolerance.”

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

What Mr. Potok has yet to explain is how turning over all of your contact information to him fought “hate” whatsoever. Not to worry, even if Mr. Potok couldn’t use your information to “fight hate,” no doubt the boys in the Fundraising Department could.

Please note the handy button on the lower right that would allow you to “report” any suspicious activities anonymously, right after you enter your name, zip and email info.

We reminded readers of Mr. Potok’s cynical data-mining in a post about the SPLC’s $8 million dollar telemarketing racket as recently as January 2015, where the “Stand Strong” map was still standing strong and welcoming new pinheads with outstretched hands.

A recent review of the SPLC’s revamped website, however, failed to turn up any trace of this blatant fundraising tool. Clicking on the original URL takes one to the company’s home page. The Internet Archive’s cantankerous marvel, the Wayback Machine, hasn’t seen the “Stand Strong” map since September, 2015.

Granted, it’s only October, as of this writing, and maybe the map will turn up again. We’d like to see it returned, as it has served exquisitely as a visual aid for the SPLC’s fundraising tactics. Even the most devoted Potok-o-phile is always at a loss to explain just how giving up your private information “fights hate,” and in an age where even the most secure websites are vulnerable to hackers, what could a real “hate group” do with that information?

More likely, though, the “Stand Strong” map is yet another reminder of how the SPLC is rebranding and retooling to meet the fundraising realities of the 21st century. The precipitous decline of the Mr. Potok’s longtime flagship, the infamous “Hate Map,” is the most obvious sign that marketing ploys that once worked so well and for so long with the company’s original blue-haired donor base cannot stand up against the Age of the Internet and the scrutiny of web-savvy donors.

This is, no doubt, the reason why the SPLC dropped all pretenses of being a “non-profit civil rights organization” in February, 2014. The real money, in this day and age, is in “advocacy,” where no correlation between civil suits and civil rights is required.

The SPLC’s revamped website has been a bit of a mess lately, so if anyone should locate the “Stand Strong Against Hate” map later on, please pass the info along to us. A watchdog couldn’t ask for a better bone to chew.

We miss Mr. Potok’s Pinheads already.

SPLC — Confederate Commodification

September 12, 2015

The recent controversy surrounding the Confederate flag merely adds more evidence to the theory that the Southern Poverty Law Center has yet to meet a tragedy it could not somehow spin into gold. While the company is sticking to its tried-and-true methods of appealing to its largely progressive donor base’s sympathies, this most recent marketing campaign is part of a bigger shake-up that has been in the works for the past few years.

In the aftermath of the mindless murders of nine people in Charleston in June, a media frenzy ensued demanding the removal of the Confederate flag from all public property across the country.

Naturally, the professional fundraisers at the SPLC saw an opportunity to appeal to their largely progressive donor base by hopping on the media bandwagon.

One of the savvier moves was to set up an online “Erasing Hate” hot-line where people can report sightings of the flag, schools and streets named after Confederates, etc., so that, in the words of SPLC founder Morris Dees, the company could “put pressure on” local governments.

It comes as little surprise, though, that there is no option to report the offending sites anonymously. Just as with the company’s cynical “Stand Strong Against Hate” map, the ultimate goal is to add the names and addresses of potential donors into its enormous fundraising database.

Click Image to Enlarge

Otherwise, you could have all kinds of anonymous practical jokers submitting the names of locations that couldn’t possibly be verified, except, maybe, by Google…

The SPLC doesn’t need “tipsters” to compile a comprehensive list of Confederate-themed locations any more than they would for a list of Winn-Dixie grocery stores or MoonPie distributors, but the list isn’t the point of the exercise.

While this kind of marketing ploy is pretty standard by SPLC standards, the company appears to be undergoing a major re-branding in the hopes of mining new sources of revenue.

Watching the Watchdogs has previously documented the collapse of the bloated Hate Map “hate group” count, which simply could no longer stand up to close inspection in the Age of the Internet. Someone in the Head Office, (we surmise it was Heidi Beirich), began an ambitious campaign to thin out some of the more obvious “hate group” padding, reducing the spurious count by 27% over the past few years.

The company has even redesigned the layout of their lucrative Hate Map to further obfuscate their spurious numbers, but they still have a lot of fat left to trim. For example, of the 22 alleged chapters of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan listed, only four are affiliated with a known city or town. The rest merely float about in limbo, padding the count.

Perhaps the most astounding move occurred early in 2014, when the SPLC actually dropped the descriptor “non-profit civil rights organization” from its website and fundraising materials. It now refers to itself as “an advocacy group.”

This is a huge sea change for the company, which would no doubt alienate it from many of its traditional, blue-haired donors, (which is possibly why the SPLC has neglected to publicly announce the change), but the benefits going forward are manifold.

By re-branding as an advocacy group, the SPLC no longer has to tie any of its actions to actual civil rights. Now they can freely pursue such cut-and-dried civil suits as the copyright infringement case involving a gay couple’s engagement photo. No civil rights were violated, or even mentioned in the complaint, but the SPLC was able to lend publicity to the case as part of its ham-fisted marketing campaign aimed at the LGBT market.

The recent Confederate flag flap apparently got someone in the SPLC’s Advancement Office (read: Fundraising) to think more proactively. “Instead of passively waiting for the donor-dollars to roll in, what can we actually sell people?”

The answer was brilliant. On September 10, 2015, the SPLC issued a press release stating:

“Singer-songwriter Steve Earle has partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center to take a stand against the Confederate battle flag and is urging Mississippi to remove the emblem from its state flag with the release of his new song, “Mississippi It’s Time.”

No doubt the term “has partnered with” actually means “was commissioned by,” which accounts for the next line in the release, which is obviously the most telling:

“The song is available for streaming here and for download on iTunes beginning Friday, September 11. All proceeds will go to the SPLC.”

And there you have it. The SPLC has found the perfect way to commodify, that is, to turn a buck from, the Confederate flag controversy.

If this scheme pans out, you can expect more commissioned songs, to be followed by t-shirts, books, smartphone apps and video games. “All profits will go to the SPLC.”

As we pointed out a week ago, the SPLC posted a $12 million dollar “non-profit” last year, over and above the $22 million in tax-free interest generated by its $302 million dollar cash endowment fund.

The SPLC needs more funding like a Mississippi catfish needs ugly lessons.

It’s probably no coincidence that the company chose to release its product on September 11, as they seldom miss an opportunity to cash in on symbolism.

Speaking of symbolism, however, nowhere in the actual text of the press release, (though there is a photo of the album cover), does the SPLC mention the name of Mr. Earle’s band… the Dukes.

No doubt the fundraisers wanted to avoid any potential association with former KKK leader David Duke, or more likely, those other, hate-filled, Icons of Evil…

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

Whatever the reason, we’re obviously witnessing a major change in the way in which the Southern Poverty Law Center makes money. This bears watching and we at Watching the Watchdogs are more than happy to do so.

Stay tuned, y’all…

SPLC — Crunching the Numbers

September 11, 2015

As another summer winds down to a close, it’s always worthwhile to have a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s financial numbers and compare them to the company’s fundraising rhetoric.

According to the financial records for the most recent fiscal year, ending October 31, 2014, the SPLC reported total operating expenses of $42,414,311 against total annual revenues of $54,420,509, leaving a tidy “non-profit” of $12,006,198 when all was said and done.

Remember, friends, “non-profit” is a tax status, not a mission statement.

While the financial records on the web site are up-to-date, there are a couple of errors in the text that will, no doubt, be corrected in the near future. The most glaring error states that:

“At the end of the fiscal year, our endowment – a special, board-designated fund established to support our future work – stood at $245.3 million.”

That figure is three years old. According to the SPLC’s most recent IRS Form 990, the company’s endowment fund closed 2014 at a record-breaking $302,825,586 dollars (Page 26). In 2000, Ken Silverstein reported in Harper’s Magazine that SPLC founder Morris Dees at one time announced that the SPLC would cease all fundraising activities once the Endowment Fund reached $55 million dollars. As that target drew nigh, Mr. Dees doubled his bet, saying that he could “live off the interest” of a $100 million dollar endowment.

The Endowment Fund reached that number by 2002, and yet, the fundraising continued. Five years later, the $200 million dollar mark was reached in 2007 and yet, the fundraising continued. Maybe Mr. Dees was misquoted and really had $300 million in mind the whole time.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

Speaking of fundraising, the second error on the financial information page states: “During the last fiscal year, approximately 68% of our total expenses were spent on program services.”

Like everything else to do with the SPLC, that statement is up for interpretation. According to the Form 990, the company spent $13,032,973 “seeking justice by supporting victims of civil rights abuses and hate crimes,” and another $13,939,793 in support of the company’s “public information and education efforts,” for a total program services outlay of $26,972,766, (p. 3), which only adds up to 63% of total expenses for the year, not 68%

But wait… there’s more! 

According to page 2 of the Form 990, the SPLC spent $9,674,637 on fundraising for the year, or 23% of its budget, putting it near the low end of Charity Navigator’s optimal fundraising expenses chart. However, the SPLC’s own auditors note that the company “incurred joint costs of $8,056,407 for educational materials and activities as part of fundraising appeals during the year ended October 31, 2014.”

“Joint costs,” the auditors explain, are “Activities and the production of materials which combine development, education, and management functions are allocated to the program and supporting services on the basis of the content of the material, the reason for its distribution, and the audience to whom it is delivered.”

For example, SPLC “management” spent more than $1,500,000 dollars in printing and postage costs last year, over and above what the education and fundraising wings spent. That makes no sense whatsoever until you realize that “Management” was merely holding that expense for “Development,” (pronounced: “Fundraising”). They’re not lying about spending the money, they’re just not excessively truthful over who spent it.

In short, “joint costs” are fundraising costs that are allocated to program service expenses. As long as the fundraising appeal contains an “action element,” it can technically be called something else. For example, when you receive a note from the SPLC saying “Hate groups are on the rise everywhere! Your financial support will help us fight hate,” you have received “educational materials” and a not fundraising letter. Get it?

When you add up the SPLC’s declared fundraising costs and its “joint” fundraising costs you come up with $17,731,044 dollars, or 42% of total expenses, which blows it completely off Charity Navigator’s charts.

So, if you deduct that $17 million in fundraising costs from the company’s annual expenses, as Mr. Dees promised he would when the Endowment Fund reached $100 million, it cost just under $25 million to keep the SPLC’s doors open last year.

At that rate, the Endowment Fund could support all programs for 12 years without raising another dime, but that doesn’t include the $22 million in tax-free interest generated by the fund, which would cover nearly everything without touching the principle. With a little of the “stewardship” the financial page brags about, the SPLC could carry on indefinitely without ever asking for another red cent.

Don’t hold your breath.

The SPLC’s Outright Telemarketing Scam

February 27, 2015

One month ago, we gave the Southern Poverty Law Center the benefit of the doubt concerning their dubious telemarketing practices. Today, with the release of their 2014 IRS Form 990 tax report, we cannot cover for their outright telemarketing scam any longer.

Here is the SPLC’s IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ending October 31, 2014.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

For the fourth consecutive year, SPLC Founder Morris Dees, who bills himself as a “sound steward” of the donors’ money has deliberately scammed tens of thousands of well-meaning donors through his network of paid telemarketing rip-off artists.

To wit, for the past four years Mr. Dees has continued his relationship with Grassroots Campaigns of Boston, Mass, despite the horrific hemorrhaging of donor dollars. Grassroots has cost the SPLC hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars each year for their fundraising efforts:

2011:  -$212,214

2012:  -$869,686

2013: -$1,156,765

2014:  -$1,130,680

How in the world can Mr. Dees continue to deal with a company that has blatantly siphoned $3,369,345 donor-dollars out of his coffers over the past four years? These horrendous figures more than wipe out every dollar raised by his other telemarketing cronies, not that that amounted to all that much.

Checking out Telefund, Inc. of Denver, we see that they raised $561,102 in the name of the SPLC  in 2014, and only pocketed $422,292 in fees, leaving the SPLC $138,811, or a whopping 25% of the donation money.

Did anyone tell the donors that Telefund was pocketing three quarters of their donor-dollars?

But that’s all chump change compared to the experts at Harris Marketing group, who raised $213,694 in the name of the SPLC and “fighting hate,” and only pocketed $192,928, or a mere 90% of the money donated over the phone.

And yet, Morris Dees could not be happier with the results because Grassroots, Telefund and Harris all sold their information to him. For mere pennies on the dollar, Mr. Dees buys solid donor leads that he can feed into his own uber-efficient in-house fundraising machine at 100% profit down the road.

Best of all, it was the stupid donors who unwittingly paid to have their information sold to Mr. Dees. You really cannot beat that for “stewardship.”

Dees will lose money on the deal this year, but it’s nothing compared to the tens of millions he stands to gain from these donors over the coming decades.

But think about it. In 2014, Mo Dees paid $2,537,027 to third-party telemarketers to raise $1,979,272 in donor-dollars, meaning that the telemarketers kept every last dime they solicited over the phone in the name of the SPLC as well as an additional $557,755 out of the SPLC’s existing donor till

THIS is “sound stewardship?”  At $100 dollars apiece “only” 25,370 of the 2014 donors got screwed out of their donations. A mere pittance. At $50 dollars a pop the number jumps to more than 50,000 suckers, and yet, Mo Dees calls this “sound stewardship?”

Justify it anyway you want, but at least 25,000 well-meaning donors got screwed out of their money, just as they have for the past four years.

It’s time that the media and the IRS investigates the criminal scamming of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is nothing less than blatant fraud. Selling the suckers one thing and giving them something far less.

The SPLC’s Sketchy Telemarketing Tricks

January 27, 2015

Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees claims on his company’s website that he is a sound financial steward of the millions of tax-free dollars his donors send him each year in the sincere belief that they are somehow “fighting hate” by doing so.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

 

Unbeknownst to tens of thousands of donors a year, however, is the fact that millions of their donation dollars never reach the SPLC’s coffers. Let’s look at the numbers:

First, the Good News: According to the SPLC’s tax returns, (shown below), over the past three fiscal years, third-party telemarketers raised $5,156,337 toward the SPLC’s worthy goal of “fighting hate” in America.

The Bad News: The SPLC actually paid $5,750,295 to the telemarketers over those three years, for a net loss of $593,958 donor-dollars!

One telemarketing firm, Grassroots Campaigns, of Boston, charged Mr. Dees an incredible $3,883,469 to raise $1,644,804, for an astonishing loss of $2,238,665.

Not only did Grassroots keep every dime they raised from well-meaning donors, they completely wiped out the $1,644,804 turned over to the SPLC by all of the other telemarketers combined AND scooped an additional $593,958 out of the existing SPLC donor pot!

The Other Good News: “Sound Steward” Morris Dees could not be happier with the results.

How can Mr. Dees condone this rampant hemorrhaging of desperately needed donor-dollars? To recycle the old vaudeville punchline: “He’ll make it up in volume.”

It’s simple. Dees isn’t hiring these telemarketers to “raise money” for the SPLC, regardless of what they say in their scripted telephone pitch. He’s paying them to identify new donors to feed into his own uber-efficient, in-house fundraising machine.

Think about it. As the SPLC’s IRS Schedule G returns indicate below, the measly $427,000 the SPLC received from the external telemarketers after expenses in 2010 represents a mere 1.3% of the $32 million Mr. Dees’ in-house fundraisers raked in that year.

That’s chump change, like a five-dollar bill you find in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a while.

The real money will come from future donations from these people over the coming years, of which the SPLC gets to keep 100%.

It’s a beautiful system when you think about it because it not only makes millions for the SPLC down the road, but it’s paid for entirely by the gullible donors themselves!

“Sound stewardship” doesn’t get any better than this.

The downside is that the tens of thousands of well-meaning donors who ponied up the $5.7 million donor-dollars to pay the telemarketers genuinely believed that their money was actually going toward “fighting hate,” rather than padding out Mr. Dees’ donor list.

To be fair, the SPLC isn’t the only one playing fast and loose with the donor-dollars. A 2012 news report in the Pittsburgh Tribune explains that even the best third party fundraisers only turn over about 45 cents on every dollar they raise but many others keep as much as 97% of the take.

Obviously, the donors have no idea how little of their money actually gets to the non-profits they support.

For smaller charities and non-profits even a paltry 3% return is better than nothing.

The Tribune article even interviews Grassroots’ own National Canvass Director, Wes Jones, who claims the donor-dollars paid to his company are justified because organizations like the SPLC are actually buying “a huge amount of visibility and new supportersand their contributions over the next few years will substantially exceed the cost of the effort.”
[Emphasis added]

Non-profits such as the ASPCA and Amnesty International are cited in the article as saying they were pleased with Grassroots’ work, even when it cost them millions out-of-pocket. They too are far more interested in the donor information Grassroots collects.

When you think about it, Morris Dees paid less than $600,000 for $5.1 million dollars worth of proven donor information. That’s less than 9 cents on the dollar. Not a bad return on investment, especially when it is the unwitting donors who are footing the bill and will continue to contribute for years or decades to come.

So how many trusting donors got absolutely nothing for their donations? At $100 apiece, which seems like an unusually high number for first-time donors, that “only” comes to 57,000 suckers. At $50 dollars a head, 114,000 donors were duped, and the more modest the donation the larger the number of people who were deceived.

The SPLC has a long history of making the most of Progressive altruism. Watching the Watchdogs reported back in 2009 on the SPLC’s laughable “Stand Strong Against Hate” map.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

In exchange for nothing more than your name, street and e-mail addresses, you too can “stand strong against hate.” In 2009, that personal information would earn you a digital pinhead on his map with your first name and last initial.

Mr. Dees doesn’t explain exactly how your personal information “fights hate,” but no doubt his formidable fundraising team makes very good use of the data and there’s nothing stopping them from selling it to other non-profits.

According to the map, thousands of Progressive pinheads have signed up for the cause.

It all sounds rather cynical to us.

So what do we make of Mr. Dees’ sketchy telemarketing deals? They’re not illegal, and apparently “everybody” in Non-Profit Land is doing it.

The donors are still getting a warm-and-fuzzy tingle and the fantasy that they are somehow “fighting hate,” which, after all, is pretty much all they would get if they delivered the money directly into Mr. Dees’ hands.

Maybe it’s a win-win-win situation after all.

Below are the SPLC’s telemarketing records from the past three available fiscal years. Look at the numbers for yourselves, do the math and come to your own conclusions as to whether the donors are getting a fair deal.

Fundraising2010

Click Image to Enlarge

 

Fundraising2011

Fundraising2012

Click Image to Enlarge

 


%d bloggers like this: