Posts Tagged ‘Rhonda Brownstein’

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.

The Many (White) Faces of the SPLC

January 24, 2015

It’s always informative to peruse the Southern Poverty Law Center’s web site, as you never know what you’ll find. Here’s what the Senior Program Staff page of the Who We Are tab looks like:

Senior Staff1Senior Staff2Senior Staff3

We found it a bit odd that there were so many missing photos, as it sure left a lot of white space on the page. Just out of curiosity we simply Googled the names and found photos for everyone.

So here, in no particular order, are the missing faces of the SPLC’s Senior Program Staff, click on any image to enlarge it:

MissingStaff1MissingStaff2MissingStaff3

As it turns out, if the web designers at the SPLC actually had filled in all the missing photos there would still be a lot of white space on the page.

No doubt even the most die-hard donors would catch on if all of the photos were published.

Twenty-one of the SPLC’s Senior Staffers are white, or about 88% of the team. Seems a bit odd for “the nation’s leading civil rights organization,” especially since its headquarters are located LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. Martin Luther King’s own Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the American Civil Rights Movement.

When you account for the fact that four of the Senior Staffers, including two of the three blacks on the team, live out-of-state, the percentage of white staff in Montgomery jumps to 95%. The sole exception is Lecia Brooks, who works as a fundraiser. Ms. Brooks joined the SPLC in 2004 and has never broken into the ranks of highest paid officers, even when the list included salaries as paltry as $70,000 a year.

Still and all, as dismal as the diversity of the Senior Staff is, it’s better than the makeup of the SPLC’s executive officer team, which is composed 100% of white millionaires, just as it has been for every year since the SPLC opened for business in 1971.

Even the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” program, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom, is led by whites, as it has been since its inception in 1991.

“Diversity,” like taxes, it seems, is for the little people. No hypocrisy here, SPLC.

SPLC — 2011– Forty Years of White Supremacy

February 6, 2011

Richard Cohen

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.

 

SPLC — Dreaming of a White Christmas

December 31, 2009
A look at the top officers at the Southern Poverty Law Center as named on pages 11 and 40 of the group’s most recent IRS Form 990, and their annual compensation for 2008.

Richard Cohen -- President/CEO -- $351,648

Morris Dees -- Chief Trial Counsel -- $346,919

Joseph Levin -- General Counsel -- $191,756

Jeff Blancett -- Former Oper. Officer -- $185,305

$185,000 donor dollars for the former Chief Operating Officer?)

Rhonda Brownstein -- Legal Director -- $179,983

Teenie Hutchison -- Chief Financial Officer -- $155,144

Mark Potok -- Intelligence Director -- $143,206

Mary Bauer -- Immigrant Justice-- $141,111

Wendy Via -- Development Director -- $140,469

(Not shown is the SPLC’s $142,639 donor dollar Security and IT chief, Thomas Brinkman)

Given the six-digit salaries these folks are pulling down for their never-ending battle against “hate” (however they choose to define it), it’s pretty obvious that Santa is very good to them every year.
It’s also curious that the world’s leading civil rights organization can’t seem to find a single minority whom they consider to be worthy of a top management position.
Funny that an organization that spends tens of thousands of donor dollars promoting “Mix It Up” Day in America’s school cafeterias seems to believe that “diversity” ends at the Boardroom door.
Some things just never seem to change much in Montgomery.
Happy New Year, SPLC, no doubt all your Christmases will continue to be white.

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