Southern Poverty: richer than Tonga
"Back in 2000, I wrote a story in Harper's about the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Alabama, whose stated mission is to combat disgusting yet mostly impotent groups like the Nazis and the KKK. What it does best, though, is to raise obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about the power of those groups; hence the SPLC has become the nation's richest “civil rights” organization. The Center earns more from its vast investment portfolio than it spends on its core mission, which has led Millard Farmer, a death-penalty lawyer in Georgia, to once describe Morris Dees, the SPLC's head, as “the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement” (adding, “I don't mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye”).
When in 1978 the Center's treasury held less than $10 million, Dees said the group would stop fund-raising and live off interest when it hit $55 million. As he zeroed in on that target a decade later, Dees upped the ante to $100 million, which the group's newsletter promised would allow it “to cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising.” At the time of my story seven years ago, the SPLC's treasury bulged with $120 million, and the organization was spending twice as much on fund-raising as it did on legal services for victims of civil-rights abuses–yet its money-gathering machinery was still running without cease.
It's still going. Last week, a reader sent me the SPLC's 2005 financial filing with the IRS, which is required by law for charities. In five years, the SPLC's treasury had grown by a further $48 million, bringing its total assets to $168 million. That's more than the annual GDP of the Marshall Islands, and has the SPLC rapidly closing in on Tonga's GDP.
Revenues listed for the 2005 filing came to about $44 million, which dwarfed total spending ($29 million). Of that latter amount, nearly $5 million was spent to raise even more money, and over $8 million was spent on salaries, benefits, and other compensation. The next time you get a fund-raising pitch from the SPLC, give generously—but give to a group that will make better use of your money. Like Global Witness."