The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which last year faced accusations of racism among its highest ranks, reported $162 million stashed in offshore investments and paid its disgraced former leaders over $1 million.
The controversial group has continued to build its massive war chest by tens of millions of dollars even after employees claimed that the group’s leadership allowed sexual harassment and racial discrimination against its minority staffers. The ensuing media firestorm ultimately led to the ousting of cofounder Morris Dees, longtime president Richard Cohen, and legal director Rhonda Brownstein from the group in March 2019. New forms, covering a period beginning Nov. 1, 2018, and ending on Oct. 31, 2019, show that Cohen and Brownstein each received six-figure severance packages.
Critics of the SPLC in recent years have characterized the group as a money racket that labels conservative organizations as “hate groups” to fundraise, and its most recent financial forms may fuel that criticism. The SPLC achieved numerous civil rights victories decades ago but has since veered far left, partnering with numerous tech and media giants to expand its influence.
The SPLC experienced a drastic uptick in assets even as its contributions and grants have declined. Its most recent tax forms reported annual contributions of $97 million, down from the $132 million it reported in October 2017. Despite that decline, it reported $570 million in assets between its main organization and its action fund, a $52 million increase over what it reported the prior year. The jump can largely be attributed to the SPLC’s vast investment portfolio, which now includes $162 million stashed in offshore accounts, $41 million more than the group previously reported.
The financial records also reveal that amid the cash influx, Dees, Cohen, and Brownstein collected over $1 million from the group despite being forced out early in the year over a workplace culture that allegedly fostered racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
Dees was paid $338,000 in base compensation and $35,000 in other reportable compensation, the tax forms show. Cohen collected $373,000 in base compensation, nearly $10,000 in other reportable compensation, and received a severance payment of $216,318. Brownstein was paid $233,062 in base compensation, given $2,000 in other reportable compensation, and received a severance payment of $131,283.
The SPLC has long come under fire for labeling socially conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom as “hate groups” alongside groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The SPLC’s designations have often been cited by mainstream media outlets, leading nearly 50 conservative nonprofit leaders to release a letter in 2017 calling on the media to stop citing SPLC “hate” lists. The letter called the SPLC “an attack dog of the political left.”