Posts Tagged ‘Dan Morse’

SPLC — The Cost of Failure

February 27, 2020

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its IRS Form 990 tax return for 2019 earlier this week. Not surprising, the company reported nine-digit revenues for the third year in a row, 83% of which came from direct donations.

Last year brought in $117 million, which is down from 2018’s $122 million and 2017’s record-breaking $133 million take, but is still twice 2016’s paltry $58 million. The advent of Donald Trump’s election and the 2017’s Charlottesville riots created a corporate virtue signalling campaign of unprecedented scale, which will likely rebound slightly for the 2020 election cycle.

Last year also brought the entirely-unforeseen but much-needed shakeup of the SPLC’s Executive Suite, starting with the ouster of company founder Morris Dees under allegations of long-time sexual harassment of female employees. Former SPLC staffer Bob Moser documented this open secret in a March 21, 2019 New Yorker article, The Reckoning of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to Moser, “Incoming female staffers were additionally warned by their new colleagues about Dees’s reputation for hitting on young women.” The SPLC’s top leadership had been receiving complaints of this nature routinely, but chose to keep Dees on the payroll because the donors loved him.

Dees, for his part, refuted this claim with the kind of logic that only a lawyer could love: Dees claimed that he couldn’t have been hitting on women at the office because he was hardly ever in the building any more.

On March 14, 2019, the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, reported “[Dees] said he hadn’t tried a case in at least a decade and hadn’t recently been involved in the day-to-day operations of the SPLC. ” PJ Media‘s Tyler O’Neil repeated this claim in his 2020 book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he quotes Dees as saying that he had very rarely gone to the office for the past ten years.

All this begs the question as to why Morris Dees was kept on the company payroll all those years, at a salary exceeding $400,000 annually? This is especially troubling considering the millions of fundraising appeals the SPLC sent out to gullible donors over those years, implying that the company was in dire need of cash.

Long-time SPLC president Richard Cohen, who also pulled down $400,000 a year, is chiefly to blame, which partially explains why Cohen quit the SPLC a week after firing Dees, as did SPLC Legal Director Rhonda Brownstein.

Cohen should have fired Dees after the first sexual misconduct charges were made, but instead he kept Dees on at full pay so that the latter could make the occasional fundraising call to the company’s richest donors.

Cohen also jumped ship under the cloud that, under his leadership, the SPLC had a decades-old record of not promoting minorities to senior positions, a claim documented by Montgomery Advertiser reporters Dan Morse and Greg Jaffe as early as 1994.

So Morris Dees was fired in disgrace from the very company he created and Cohen and Brownstein beat feet to get as far from the sinking ship as quickly as possible. All’s well that ends well, right? Not so much for the donors. The recent IRS Form 990 shows that despite being fired, Morris Dees collected his full salary for the year, as did Cohen and Brownstein, despite having ignominiously quit their jobs.

The three great humanitarians, who were shown the door roughly one-third of the way into the fiscal year, were paid a total of $1,109,049 donor-dollars in all, with nearly $732,000 of that coming after they no longer worked for the company.

That bill was picked up by the donors. At $100 a pop, some 7,300 donors, who believed with all their hearts that their money was somehow “fighting hate,” instead paid for the severance packages of three people whose moral failures nearly destroyed the SPLC.

At a more likely $25 donation level, that number jumps to 183,000 well-meaning suckers.

2019 Dees Cohen pay 1

2019 Brownstein pay 1

SPLC Severance - IRS Form 990 -Page 51

Cohen and Brownstein severance payments

Richard Cohen cannot hog all of the credit for keeping Morris Dees around for all those years, though. An equal share, perhaps even a greater share, goes to the SPLC’s Board of Directors, whose sworn duty was to respond to serious allegations against company executives and who ultimately have hire/fire powers.

Amazingly, nine of the 14 Board members who did absolutely nothing about Dees’ and Cohen’s disreputable behavior for years (ten, if interim SPLC president Karen Baynes-Dunning returns to the Board) are STILL on the Board in 2020!

2019 Board of Directors

2019 SPLC Board of Directors

2020 Board of Directors

2020 SPLC Board of Directors

Many of the Board members have been in place for years, including Morris Dees’ divorce lawyer, Howard Mandell, who was on the Board back when Morse and Jaffe were writing their week-long exposé of the SPLC in 1994.

One 2019 Board alumna who bailed out in the wake of the Dees/Cohen debacle was Jocelyn Benson, who was named as Michigan Secretary of State in 2018.  On March 26, 2019,  PJ Media noted Benson’s sudden disappearance from the SPLC website.

Benson’s office claimed that “Upon taking office as Michigan Secretary of State, Secretary Benson informed SPLC leadership that she would be stepping down from the board,” but the SPLC website’s bio page for Benson describes her as Secretary of State for nearly six months before her sudden removal from the page.

Even if the removal of Benson from the Board webpage after her election was an oversight by the SPLC, she still served on the Board since at least 2015 and worked for the SPLC in the early 2000s. The odds of Ms. Benson not “getting the word” about Mr. Dees alleged improprieties in all that time, especially as a young intern, are pretty slim.

Jocelyn Benson is as guilty of keeping Morris Dees and Richard Cohen on the SPLC payroll as is Howard Mandell and the rest of the Board of Directors, and yet not one of them have ever been taken to task for their failure.

Instead, the buck was passed to the almighty donors.

SPLC Executive Suite: 47 Years of “Whites Only”

April 15, 2018

This month the Southern Poverty Law Center released its tax records for 2017, revealing staggering revenues in excess of $136 million (compared to $58 million for 2016), and a bloated cash-on-hand endowment fund approaching half a BILLION dollars.

We’ll take a closer look at those numbers in upcoming posts. While profits at the company are at levels never seen before, there is one glaring statistic that has remained steadfastly unchanged since the Nixon Administration.

In 1994, Dan Morse and Greg Jaffe, two reporters from the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, published an 8-day exposé of the company. Amazingly, the reporters discovered that 23 years after opening its doors for business in 1971, there were no minorities among the top leadership of the “nation’s leading civil rights organization.”

The headline for the lead article in the series reads: “Equal Treatment? No Blacks in Center’s Leadership”

“Inside, 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 noted that the handful of Black attorneys hired in the company’s early days had all quit, some citing a “plantation mentality,” and that the only African-American in any position of authority managed the mail room, where she had worked for the past 20-odd years.

Equal treatment

Fast forward to November 2000, when Ken Silverstein noted in his landmark article for Harper’s Magazine, “The Church of Morris Dees,” that nothing had changed since Morse and Jaffe’s articles had been published.

When we first read these surprising claims in 2009 we were astonished and set out to discover if the SPLC had ever gotten around to practicing what it so profitably preached. Using the company’s IRS Form 990 tax returns, (which can now be found on the ProPublica website, going back to 2001), we found that the Executive Suite of the Southern Poverty Law Center was just as white in 2008 as it had been in 1978, 1988 and 1998.

Here we are in 2018 and the SPLC’s monochromatic streak remains unbroken:

2017 Execs

2017 salaries

2016 and 2015

2014 and 2013

2012 and 2011

Our clumsy Photoshop fumbling aside, it becomes readily apparent that SPLC founder Morris Dees has no intention of integrating Executive Suite any time soon.

Perhaps the most glaring exception from the annual “highest paid” officer list is Lecia Brooks, who joined the SPLC in 2004 and currently holds TWO directorships at the company simultaneously, something no other officer has ever done.

lecia_brooks

Lecia Brooks

Ms. Brooks has NEVER appeared on the “highest paid” list, even when the salaries listed dipped to a paltry $70,000 a year. Meanwhile, her all-white co-Directors, even the company’s head secretary, have been pulling down six-digit salaries for decades.

Among Ms. Brooks’ highly paid co-Directors is Maureen Costello, who runs the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” wing, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom. In that same 1994 Montgomery Advertiser article that noted no Blacks at the top, Morse and Jaffe noted this interesting factoid:

“The Law Center’s ambitious new project, Teaching Tolerance, which is designed to promote racial and cultural justice throughout America’s schools, is produced by an eight-member all-white staff according to the Law Center.”

While Teaching Tolerance does not publish the names of its rank-and-file staff, its Directors have always been whites, since its founding in 2004, except for a brief interregnum in 2010, when Lecia Brooks was allowed to keep the seat warm until the highly diverse Ms. Costello could be hired.

Costello

Maureen Costello

In closing, it is worth noting that many long-time SPLC donors and watchers may recall that the company’s first president was Julian Bond, the legendary civil rights activist from the 1960s. “Julian Bond was Black,” they’ll say, “So Morris Dees does hire minorities for top positions!”

As usual with Mr. Dees and the SPLC, a closer look at the facts tells a different story.

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 marketing, 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.”

A memo from 1971 in the Julian Bond Papers collection at the University of Virginia indicates that the “honorary president” was paid a monthly “fee” (not “salary”) of $1,000 a month in exchange for his signature on fundraising letters written by Morris Dees in Julian Bond’s name.

Bond had returned to college in Atlanta in 1971 and remained there throughout his entire honorary presidency, a good three-hour drive from Montgomery on today’s highways.

Julian Bond was a paid celebrity endorser and no more, as noted by the fact that Bond gets exactly two paragraphs in Dees’ 335-page memoir and is never heard from again.

Julian Bond had no more to do with running the Southern Poverty Law Center than Michael Jordan has with running Hanes.

You have to hand it to Morris Dees, though. He’s managed to keep his Head Office lily-white for nearly fifty years. Even the NFL and NBA couldn’t pull that off.

 


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