No one appears to have been in charge at Black Lives Matter for months. The address it lists on tax forms is wrong, and the charity’s two board members won’t say who controls its $60 million bankroll, a Washington Examiner investigation has found.
BLM’s shocking lack of transparency surrounding its finances and operations raises major legal and ethical red flags, multiple charity experts told the Washington Examiner.
“Like a giant ghost ship full of treasure drifting in the night with no captain, no discernible crew, and no clear direction,” CharityWatch Executive Director Laurie Styron said of BLM.
BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors appointed two activists to serve as the group’s senior directors following her resignation in May amid scrutiny over her personal finances. But both quietly announced in September that they never took the jobs due to disagreements with BLM. They told the Washington Examiner they don’t know who now leads the nation’s most influential social justice organization.
Paul Kamenar, counsel for conservative watchdog group the National Legal and Policy Center, said a full audit and investigation into Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, the legal entity that represents the national BLM movement, is warranted.
“This is grossly irregular and improper for a nonprofit with $60 million in its coffers,” Kamenar said.
BLM previously came under fire from local black activists after the New York Post reported in April that Cullors, then its executive director, had spent $3.2 million on real estate across the United States. The reports followed BLM’s disclosure in February 2021 that it closed out 2020 with $60 million in its bank accounts.
BLM denied allegations that Cullors spent BLM funds on her personal properties. However, BLM and other activist organizations under Cullors’s control offered contracts to an art company led by the father of her only child, the Daily Caller reported.
Cullors announced in May she was stepping down and that activists Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele would lead the organization as senior executives. But Themba and Bandele revealed in September that they never actually took the job because of disagreements with BLM’s “acting Leadership Council.”
Both Themba and Bandele told the Washington Examiner they do not know who took over as BLM’s top executive after their departure. And neither would say who served on the council.
“We never actually started in the position, so we never received any detailed information,” Themba said.
While a charity’s finances are ultimately the responsibility of its board of directors, BLM’s bylaws explicitly state that its executive director “shall have charge of all funds and securities of the Corporation.”
The two remaining BLM board members, Shalomyah Bowers and Raymond Howard, did not return numerous requests for comment asking who has been in charge of BLM and its money since Cullors left the charity in May.
Bowers served as the treasurer for multiple activist organizations run by Cullors, including BLM PAC and a Los Angeles-based jail reform group that paid Cullors $20,000 a month and dropped nearly $26,000 for “meetings” at a luxury Malibu beach resort in 2019.
Bowers declined to comment when reached by phone on Monday.
Howard has spoken openly on Facebook about his work with BLM and his close relationship with Cullors, but he appears to have recently taken steps to conceal his role with the charity.
As recently as last Friday, Howard’s LinkedIn profile stated that he is the director of operations for “An International Social Justice Organization.” His page was modified after the Washington Examiner contacted Howard for comment and now states he serves as the director of operations for a “Non Profit.” A reference to Howard’s position as the finance and operations manager of New Impact Partners, a Dayton, Ohio-based consulting firm owned by his sister, was also removed from his LinkedIn profile.
Also as recently as last Friday, a website for New Impact Partners attributed a quote to “Raymond” from “Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation,” thanking the consulting firm for its help solving BLM’s organizational challenges. The attribution was removed from the website after the Washington Examiner asked Howard how much BLM has paid his sister’s firm.
Despite New Impact Partners’s apparent efforts to conceal its affiliation with BLM, the consulting firm continues to solicit applications for its “Talent Network,” which it says will connect job applicants directly to BLM and other activist organizations.
Longtime charity expert Doug White said it’s a red flag that BLM won’t answer basic questions about its finances or leadership structure.
“Sixty million dollars is not chump change,” White said. “What BLM does is of tremendous social importance. That they won’t give an honest or complete or straightforward answer in regards to its leadership is a concern. Not only do they not have an executive director right now, we think, but they also don’t want to tell you how the organization is being run.”
BLM was not a charity in its own right for much of 2020, a year in which it received a windfall of cash from big corporations and individual donors spurred by the police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide riots that followed. Rather, BLM spent most of the year essentially borrowing the charitable status of two other California-based charities, Thousand Currents and the Tides Foundation, which served as BLM’s fiscal sponsors.
But the IRS granted BLM tax-exempt status in December 2020, enabling the group to operate as a charity independent of its former fiscal sponsors. And Thousand Currents reported in its most recent audited financial statements that it transferred $66.5 million directly into BLM’s coffers in October 2020.
Cullors signed the asset transfer on behalf of BLM on Sept. 16, 2020, according to a copy of the agreement provided to the Washington Examiner by the California Office of the Attorney General.
BLM published a report last February saying it incurred $8.4 million in operating expenses in 2020 and that it closed out the year with $60 million under its control.
But BLM reported to the IRS in August 2020 that it expected to incur precisely $12,706,366 in “Professional Fees” expenditures during the same calendar year, a figure $4.3 million higher than the top-line annual spending figure it later reported to the public in February.
Kamenar said his watchdog group believes there should be a “full audit” of BLM to clear up the spending discrepancy.
“Bottom line: Lot of questionable financial activity, organizational structure, location of the books, etc. that call for a full investigation,” Kamenar said.
Data that should be contained within BLM’s Form 990 tax return for 2020, which was due to the IRS in November, would help clear up the organization’s $4.3 million spending discrepancy.
On Tuesday, a Washington Examiner reporter attempted to request BLM’s 2020 Form 990 in person at the charity’s office in Los Angeles, which the group disclosed as the location its books are stored in previous filings submitted to the IRS, only to be told by a security guard that there has never been a BLM office at the location.
An unidentified BLM spokesperson informed the Washington Examiner on Thursday that the group does not currently maintain a “permanent office” and offered to mail a copy of its 990 within two weeks.
Alan Dye, a partner at Webster, Chamberlain & Bean who specializes in nonprofit law, told the Washington Examiner that charities that don’t submit their Form 990s on time could face fines from the IRS and some state-level charity oversight agencies.
Styron, the CharityWatch executive director, said Form 990s are matters of public record and that BLM should have completed its 2020 form by now.
“Irrespective of where any person falls on the political spectrum or what their position is on any social justice issue, hopefully, we can all agree that tax-subsidized public charities have an ethical responsibility to be transparent with the public about how they are operating and how the donations they receive are being used,” Styron said. “The amount of money involved here is not insignificant.”