Meet the dedicated men and women of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Presented here, according to the SPLC’s most recent IRS Form 990, are “the nation’s leading civil rights group’s” top eleven, highest paid executives, their titles and compensation packages and any significant changes in their base salaries from the previous year:
Richard Cohen — President/CEO — $340,818
Morris Dees — Founder and Chief Trial Counsel — $344,809
Joseph Levin — Director and General Counsel — $184, 469
Rhonda Brownstein — “Outgoing” Legal Dir.– $137,256 (-$29,942, Ouch!)
Teenie Hutchinson — CFO — $156,623 (+$4,598!)
Wendy Via — Development Director — $148,537 (+$11,244!)
Mark Potok — Intelligence Director — $147,276 (+ $7,310!)
Mary Bauer — Dir. Immigrant Justice — $258,669 (+$119,063!!)
David Utter — Director — Miami — $137,256
Not shown are Michael Toohey, the SPLC’s COO, $225,765 (+$118,233!!!) and IT Chief Thomas Brinkman ($135,060). If anyone knows of a public photo of Mr. Toohey or Mr. Brinkman, please pass the info along to Watching the Watchdogs.
If you examine the photos closely, you may note a surprising coincidence: ALL of the SPLC’s highest paid executives are white.
Some people may find it odd that a civil rights organization, headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, the very birthplace of the American Civil Rights Movement and home to Rosa Parks, would be run by white millionaires, but that’s nothing compared with the fact that in its entire 40 year long history, the Southern Poverty Law Center has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of power.
As long ago as 1994, Dan Morse, an investigative reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser noted the lack of diversity in the SPLC’s executive suite, and the situation has not changed whatsoever in the 17 years since.
(Dan Morse, “Equal Treatment? No blacks in center’s leadership,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 16, 1994.)
“Inside [SPLC headquarters], no blacks have held top management positions in the center’s 23-year history, and some former employees say blacks are treated like second-class citizens.”
The article continues:
“I would definitely say that there was not a single black employee with whom I spoke who was happy to be working there,” said Christine Lee, a black graduate of Harvard Law School who interned at the Law Center in 1989.”
In his defense, SPLC founder Morris Dees offered the following statements:
“There ain’t no plantation mentality. If that was the case, I don’t know what the blacks would be doing in the positions they are…” In 1994, when Dees made this eloquent statement, the SPLC’s highest paid African American employee was in charge of the mail room, where she had worked for the previous 20-plus years.
“It is not easy to find black lawyers. Any organization can tell you that.” This could be true. After all, NFL and NBA team owners made the exact same observation for decades when explaining why there were no black head coaches, right?
Supporters of the SPLC will often point to the diverse “Board of Directors” posted on the SPLC’s web site as proof of inclusion at the top:
A veritable rainbow of diversity and multiculturalism, however the IRS Form 990 indicates that the board members are unpaid volunteers, which is not uncommon among such boards in the corporate world. The real question is how much influence does the board have over SPLC policies and practices?
During the same week-long investigative report of the SPLC, Dan Morse noted that most of the board members were old friends and cronies of Morris Dees who regularly rubber-stamped whatever the maestro put before them. Some of the board members in Morse’s 1994 report are still on the SPLC board today.
(Dan Morse, “Friendly Board,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 19, 1994.)
“Well, what about Julian Bond and Lecia Brooks?” say the die-hards, “They’re African Americans.”
On page 132 of his 1991 autobiography, “A Season for Justice,” (reprinted verbatim in 2003 as “A Lawyer’s Journey“), Dees writes about the earliest days of the SPLC when he was preparing to mail out the very first of that organization’s fund-raising appeals, (using the 700,000-plus names on the donor list he received for “volunteering” to serve as finance manager for George McGovern’s presidential bid.)
Dees had made his millions in direct mail, not law, and he knew how to write a successful sales pitch:
“Before we could ask for money, we had to establish credibility. We needed a prominent figure whose presence would announce the center’s values and promise. Julian Bond seemed the perfect choice.”
“I had never met Julian Bond. My friend Chuck Morgan… working for the ACLU… arranged a meeting in Atlanta. When I told [Bond] about our hopes and plans, he agreed to serve as president of the Law Center, a largely honorary position.”
Dees does not mention any money changing hands, so it is quite possible that Mr. Bond was eager to lend his good name to two white lawyers from Montgomery, of whom he had never heard, for free. Whether Mr. Bond was paid or not, he held no real power at the SPLC. (Bond gets two paragraphs in Dees’ 335 page memoir and is never heard from again…)
This is a classic case of celebrity endorsement and nothing more. If Bond held no power as “honorary president,” one has to wonder how much he now wields as an honorary board member?
As for Lecia Brooks, whose title of Outreach Director probably makes her the highest paid minority at the SPLC, it appears that she is neither highly paid, nor in an executive, decision-making position. Page 7 of last year’s IRS Form 990 also listed the SPLC’s highest paid executives, including Michael Toohey, whose paltry $73,454 salary was the lowest on the list.
While Mr. Toohey received a six-digit raise since then, Ms. Brooks did not make the list, meaning her salary was less than $73k, or roughly half of what the next tier of (white) execs were pulling down.
We won’t denigrate the intelligent, talented and dedicated Ms. Brooks with the term “token,” but a highly paid executive in a position of power she clearly is not.
One last note on the hypocrisy of Morris Dees. Below is a Google Map snapshot of the SPLC’s multi-million dollar “Poverty Palace,” in downtown Montgomery, marked with a letter “A.” In the same photo, at the top right, and ironically, nearly in the shadow of the SPLC, is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King’s first church.
For forty years now, the executives of the Southern Poverty Law Center have been able to look down on Dr. King’s church from their penthouse suites. For forty years whites have remained supreme at the SPLC. Somethings just never change in Montgomery.