A “Tragedy of Capitalism”? BLM Faces Growing Questions Over Millions in Donations

Below is my column in USA Today on the investigations into the finances and tax status of Black Lives Matters. As these inquiries expand, co-founder Patrisse Cullors is scheduled to speak in favor of defunding school police in Los Angeles. Many, however, are still seeking answers from Cullors’ time at BLM and what happened to millions in donations given by corporations and citizens. Cullors previously called capitalism a tragedy worse than Covid, but this is one tragedy that could have been avoided.

Here is the column:

The California Department of Justice recently issued a notice to Black Lives Matter not only that it was in violation of state law over the failure to disclose financial records, but also that its leadership could be personally liable for the resulting fines for failing to account for $60 million in donations.

Indiana also is questioning the organization, and Amazon has suspended BLM donations due to concerns over the handling and reporting of donations by the group’s leadership.

The problem is determining who that leadership is on an organization racked by internal conflicts, resignations and scandals.

The move, however, highlights a glaring contrast to how state officials have treated BLM as opposed to the far more aggressive efforts targeting organizations like the National Rifle Association. New York is seeking to dissolve the NRA for some of the same allegations leveled against BLM, including the use of funds by BLM officials for personal benefits.

The perils of growing too fast

Businesses are often warned of the perils of growing too fast. That may seem counterintuitive, but success can bring serious problems if growth outstrips capabilities or production. BLM is a case study of that danger. After the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, corporations frantically moved to establish their standing as anti-racist organizations. BLM became the vehicle for such corporate bona fides.

Millions of dollars poured into BLM coffers as endorsements of the organization adorned everything from NFL helmets to corporate websites. BLM leaders were given lucrative corporate deals, including co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who inked a contract with Warner Bros. to help guide and develop programming across its platforms.

It was a sudden and ironic change for an organization that continues to support boycotts of white-owned businesses. Cullors insisted that she and her BLM co-founder “are trained Marxists. We are super versed on, sort of, ideological theories.” She has denounced capitalism as worse than COVID-19. Yet, companies like Lululemon rushed to find their own “social justice warrior” while selling leggings for $120 apiece.

None of these corporate sponsors seemed as interested in tracking the millions given to BLM as they did publicizing their donations. Indeed, when some began to raise questions about Cullors buying luxury homes, Facebook and Twitter censored them. BLM itself denounced such critics as “white supremacists” for questioning how these millions were being spent.

However, BLM itself seemed to be run like a college Trotskyite study group despite its long list of corporate sponsors.

Cullors stepped down last year as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, and there have been other resignations that left the group effectively headless. Those resignations might have been tied to the New York Post’s revelation that BLM Global Network transferred $6.3 million to Cullors’ spouse, Janaya Khan, and other Canadian activists to purchase a mansion in Toronto in 2021.

According to The Washington Examiner, BLM PAC and a Los Angeles-based jail reform group paid Cullors $20,000 a month. It also spent nearly $26,000 on meetings at a luxury Malibu beach resort in 2019.

There is a circular element to these payments. Reform LA Jails, chaired by Cullors, received $1.4 million, of which $205,000 went to the consulting firm owned by Cullors and her spouse, according to New York magazine.

When Cullors resigned, two people were supposed to take over as executive directors – Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele. However, neither assumed their posts, and both have said that they do not know who is running BLM.

Two other people remain on the board – Shalomyah Bowers and Raymond Howard.

A victim of capitalism

It is not clear whether there is a pattern of such payments because BLM has not filed a 2020 return, a Form 990, as required under federal law.

Even the issuance of a letter from the California Department of Justice is a surprising move given BLM’s inviolate political position. However, it still leaves a contrast to how Democratic prosecutors have treated another politically active organization, the NRA.

In New York, Attorney General Letitia James is still seeking to dissolve the NRA, which she has called a “terrorist organization.” The dissolution effort is based on the use of donations for private planes and personal benefits of NRA officials.

James, however, has not cracked down on organizations like National Action Network, which has been accused of giving millions to founder Al Sharpton in special deals or expenses. James has also not pursued BLM for reports of special dealing.

I would oppose an effort to dissolve BLM, just as I oppose the efforts to dissolve the NRA. However, the favored status afforded to BLM by the news media, corporations and state regulators has magnified the problems for the organization. There are also obvious free speech and association questions raised by such selective or disparate enforcement policies.

Cullors once declared that “while the COVID-19 illness is tragic, what’s more tragic is capitalism.” The leadership of BLM could be precisely the tragedy of capitalism that she described.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley


38 thoughts on “A “Tragedy of Capitalism”? BLM Faces Growing Questions Over Millions in Donations”

  1. Thanks for your entry for Black History Month story of the year. It will be reviewed and quickly shoved down the memory hole. Noticing it will be considered racist.

  2. Dennis points out:

    “As a frequent critic of Twitter and Facebook, denial of service on [Truth Social] would seem an important “free speech” issue but one I expect you will avoid like the plague!”

    Thanks for the information. It’s very convenient that Turley will not condescend to respond to our questions about his statements and, more importantly, his silences.

    In fact, forced silence is a larger issue. I was listening to the execrable Mark Levin’s radio show, and he was condemning Putin’s *useful idiots* among Conservatives who criticize Biden more than Putin. We all know he was referring principally to Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham as well as Trump, BUT he would NOT dare mention their names for fear of attacking his Fox colleagues and giving rhetorical ammunition to the Democrats. Even when a caller to his show was about to name them, Levin cautioned him not to!

    Turley engages in the same self-censorship. He simply will not make any public criticism of his Fox colleagues. Because of his selling out to Fox, it stands to reason he would be unwilling to take a question he can’t answer, namely, why won’t he hold Fox to the same journalistic standard that he does of its media competitors on the Left? And for that matter, why doesn’t he do so of Fox’s cable competitors on its Right, e.g., Newsmax and One America Network?

    You would think that Turley’s fear of appearing as a coward for NOT entertaining ANY questions at all would overcome his fear of having to answer some of them.

  3. This article as reprinted in Zero Hedge states that George Floyd was murdered by police. This is a gross misstatement and plays into the hands of BLM which is surely due for a discrediting. If anything Floyd’s death was manslaughter. In fact, though, it was a suicide by OD on fentanyl plus a cocktail of other drugs found in his system upon autopsy. We understand that you could become homeless if you acknowledged this fact. However, there comes a time when men need to be men and when truth should shine instead of being swept under the carpet.

  4. Socialism or redistributive change depend on consensus or monopolies, typically of force. Capitalism, or an economic system operated with retained earnings, does not lend itself to liberal exchanges and progressive corruption.

  5. Jonathan: There are other newsworthy items you have ignored this week: (1) The Supreme Court finally brought an end to Trump’s false claim of “executive privilege” over WH docs. Now, those docs, at least the ones Trump did not destroy, will be in hands of the House Jan. 6 committee. Bad news for Trump, Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon. Only Clarence Thomas dissented. Naturally. Trump must be livid that his appointees to the Court did not back him up; (2) Trump launched his alternative to Twitter and Facebook–“Truth Social” that says on its website it is a “big tent social-media platform that encourages an open, free and honest [ a word Trump should never use] global conversation without discrimination against political ideology”. Kevin Nunes. a loyal Trump supporter, is TS’s CEO. Matt Ortega, who describes himself as a “frequent internet trickster”, tried to set up an account on TS in order to parody Nunes. What was Nunes’ response. He banned Ortega. Nunes did not respond but TS says it reserves the right to deny service “to any person for any reason or for no reason”. At least Twitter and Facebook have given reasons for banning Trump. Ortega responded to his banning: “I may be the first officially ‘cancelled’ Truth Social user”. It appears Trump and Nunes both have very thin skins. Fair warning: Don’t apply for a TS account unless you clearly state you are firm supporter of the Trump agenda. As a frequent critic of Twitter and Facebook denial of service on TS would seem an important “free speech” issue but one I expect you will avoid like the plague!

    1. Trump has been out of office for over a year, get over it. Your boy Brandon is responsible for all this mess we are in now.

  6. It began with a lie that cops were out to shoot black folks [HINT: It’s black folks shooting black folks] and then proceeded to burn cities and loot stores.

    Is it a surprise that they may be crooks?

    1. Kenyan elite vs deplorables. Mandela’s Zhosa vs Zulu. Hutu vs Tutsi vs Hutu and other new/old orders and conflicts.

      1. Funny how Marc Elias always bails out at just the right moment…

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