SPLC Grows Assets to Over Half a Billion, but Cracks Begin to Show

By Matthew Sussis on March 14, 2019

According to its most recent financial statements, the Southern Poverty Law Center's war chest has now surpassed half a billion dollars. As of the fiscal year ending October 31, 2018, the SPLC had $518 million in total assets, up from $477 million on last year's balance sheet (see line 20 "Beginning of Current Year").

The SPLC's founder, Morris Dees, originally promised to stop fundraising once the organization hit $50 million. Then, he upped the figure to $100 million. At this point it seems Dees, a member of the Direct Marketing Association's Hall of Fame, has dropped the pretense putting fake caps on his fundraising goals. (It appears that Dees has reached the end of his fundraising after all: It was just reported that Morris Dees has been fired for what the SPLC said was a failure to meet the standards and mission of the organization. It has not yet elaborated further, although Dees’ bio has been scrubbed from the site.)

Interestingly, as the Washington Free Beacon first reported last year, the SPLC keeps much of this war chest overseas. This past fiscal year, the SPLC's non-U.S. equity funds rose to $121 million, compared to $92 million last year. While the SPLC is entitled to invest its money as it sees fit, stashing over $100 million in offshore accounts is certainly a curious decision for an organization with "poverty" in its name. Putting tens of millions in tax havens is all the more curious when you consider that, as a non-profit, the SPLC doesn't pay taxes anyway.

Despite the SPLC's growing financial base, its fundraising appears to have dropped off relative to FY 2017. Total "public support" — meaning money raised from contributions and grants — was $107 million. While still impressive, that's down from the $130 million the SPLC raised in 2017 (but still double what they raised in FY 2016), which the SPLC partially compensated for through $7 million higher investment income. It's no surprise that the organization got a "Trump bump" in funding after the presidential election, although it remains to be seen how long fear-mongering about the Trump administration can sustain elevated levels of donations.

For its efforts, the SPLC continued to pay its employees handsome salaries, and total salary expenses rose from $23.9 million in FY 2017 to $29.2 million in FY 2018. That includes $416,000 in total compensation for Morris Dees, $407,000 for president Richard Cohen, and $178,000 for Heidi Beirich, head of the "Intelligence Project", the organization's thought-police unit that targets "hate groups".

The SPLC is certainly getting its money's worth out of these employees, as evidenced by the Intelligence Project's newest list of "hate groups" released last month. Unsurprisingly, the SPLC is reporting that there are now a record number of such groups in the country — 1,020 compared to 954 in 2017 and 917 in 2016. The SPLC wasted no time connecting this rise in hate groups to Donald Trump. The report's very first sentence warns that, in 2018, "President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country's demographics." Who would've guessed that when you lower your arbitrary and poorly defined standards for what constitutes a "hate group" even further, you end up with even more "hate groups"?

At least for now, it appears that the SPLC's fear-mongering remains lucrative, resulting in an ever-growing asset base and lavish salaries for those involved. However, the cracks are starting to show. Last summer, the SPLC had to apologize for falsely labeling Maajid Nawaz an anti-Muslim extremist. The SPLC is facing growing legal problems — including the RICO lawsuit the Center for Immigration Studies filed against Cohen and Beirich. And more pundits and politicians have begun to call out the SPLC for its defamatory tactics and tendentious definition of "hate". Perhaps these factors explain why donations in FY 2018, while still high, were down from FY 2017 — and why FY 2019 could be worse, especially with the firing of the organization's founder and guiding light.