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Black Lives Matter has NO in-house staff or executive director despite $90M in donations in 2020

Black Lives Matter has NO in-house staff or executive director despite $90M in donations in 2020 2

Black Lives Matter says it has no executive director and no in-house staff despite receiving $90 million in donations after widespread protests against police violence in 2020.

Experts say the nonprofit is operating more like a scrappy startup than a leading charity as questions about how its funds are managed continue to mount.

The organization has already been criticized for quietly spending $6 million on a lavish Los Angeles mansion that co-founder Patrisse Cullors used for parties, including her school-aged son’s birthday celebration.

Now, newly unveiled tax records show the BLM foundation paid millions of dollars to Cullors’ friends and family for services like event production, security and ‘consulting’ services. 

This is the first public accounting of the group’s finances since it incorporated in 2017. It was under the sponsorship of a well-established charity and wasn’t required to publicly disclose its financials until it became an independent nonprofit in December 2020. 

The organization claims to have no direct employees despite finishing the last fiscal year with $42 million in net assets, after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor activated protests and donations in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘It comes across as an early startup nonprofit, without substantial governance structure in place, that got a huge windfall,’ said Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University who focuses on nonprofits and their finances.

The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation says it has no staff and no executive director despite raking in $90 million in donations amid racial unrest in 2020. Above, protesters in New York City in May 2021

The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation says it has no staff and no executive director despite raking in $90 million in donations amid racial unrest in 2020. Above, protesters in New York City in May 2021

Newly released tax filings reveal that BLM paid  a company owned by Damon Turner (left), the father of co-founder Patrisse Cullors' (right) child, nearly $970,000 to help 'produce live events' and provide other 'creative services.' The couple is pictured in 2020

Newly released tax filings reveal that BLM paid  a company owned by Damon Turner (left), the father of co-founder Patrisse Cullors’ (right) child, nearly $970,000 to help ‘produce live events’ and provide other ‘creative services.’ The couple is pictured in 2020

A consulting firm run by Shalomyah Bowers (pictured), who is BLM's board secretary and has previously served as deputy executive director, was paid more than $2.1 million for providing the organization with operational support

A consulting firm run by Shalomyah Bowers (pictured), who is BLM’s board secretary and has previously served as deputy executive director, was paid more than $2.1 million for providing the organization with operational support

BLM spent $6 million on the lavish Los Angeles mansion, according to the filings

 BLM spent $6 million on the lavish Los Angeles mansion, according to the filings

The nonprofit appears to operate as if it has way fewer resource than it does, experts say, though the foundation routinely showered friends and family with lucrative contracts.

Tax documents for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2021 show that BLM paid a company owned by Damon Turner, the father of Cullors’ child, nearly $970,000 to help ‘produce live events’ and provide other ‘creative services.’

The co-founder’s brother, Paul Cullors, received more than $840,000 for providing security services to the foundation. 

Leaders have attempted to justify the expense by saying the foundation’s protection could not be entrusted to former police professionals who typically run security firms because the BLM movement is known for vehemently protesting law enforcement organizations.

A consulting firm run by Shalomyah Bowers, who is BLM’s board secretary and has previously served as deputy executive director, was paid more than $2.1 million for providing the organization with operational support, including staffing, fundraising and other key services. 

‘It’s a best practice not to engage in business transactions with people who have influence inside the organization or with companies affiliated with people who have influence inside the organization,’ said Mittendorf, the Ohio State professor, in an interview with the Associated Press.

‘Make sure you have conflict of interest policies and other controls in place, so that those transactions are all being done to benefit the organization and not to benefit the individuals.’

The co-founder's brother, Paul Cullors (right), received more than $840,000 for providing security services to the foundation. He is pictured alongside his brother Monte

The co-founder’s brother, Paul Cullors (right), received more than $840,000 for providing security services to the foundation. He is pictured alongside his brother Monte

Despite the questions about how well it manage funds, financial records show that about $26 million, or 70 percent of BLM’s expenses, were grants to organizations and families made in the last fiscal year.

THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY OF BLM CO-FOUNFER PATRISSE CULLORS WHO GOT PAID

BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors received $120,000 for  ‘consulting fees’ and reimbursed BLM $73,523 for a charter flight. 

She denies taking money from BLM for personal matters and says all purchases  – including a lavish $6mm LA home – were legitimate.

The father of Cullors’ child, Damon Turner, was paid nearly $970,000 to help ‘produce live events’

Her brother, Paul Cullors, received more than $840,000 for providing security services to the foundation.

Fellow BLM director Shalomyah Bowers was paid more than $2.1 million for providing operational support.

‘People are going to be quick to assume that mismatch reflects intent,’ Mittendorf said. ‘Whether there´s anything improper here, that is another question. But whether they set themselves up for being criticized, I think that certainly is the case because they didn’t plug a bunch of those gaps.’

Cullors resigned from BLM last year amid a wave of scrutiny surrounding the charity’s finances. 

She has repeatedly denied claims that she took money from BLM for personal matters and has reiterated that all the purchases and transactions – including a lavish $6million home in Los Angeles, dubbed Studio City – were legitimate.

The new filing also revealed that Cullors reimbursed BLM $73,523 for a charter flight for foundation-related travel, which the organization says she took in 2021 out of concern for COVID-19 and security threats.

She paid the foundation an additional $390 over her uses of the 6,500 square-foot Studio City property for two private events. 

The latest financial disclosures come after Cullors had already come under fire for receiving a $120,000 payment – ‘consulting fees’ – by BLM. 

Cullors, who co-founded the organization, did admit previously that her sister, mother, and brother were employed at the nonprofit.

The revelations come courtesy of a 63-page Form 990, the annual filing required for organizations to maintain tax-exempt status as a nonprofit.

In its latest 990, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation Inc. revealed that it ended the last fiscal year – from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 – with nearly $42 million in net assets. The foundation had an operating budget of about $4 million, according to a board member.

Nearly $6 million was spent on the Studio City property, which includes a home with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a soundstage and office space, was intended as a campus for a black artists fellowship and is currently used for that purpose, the board member said. 

BLM founders include Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi (pictured together  in 2015)

LA faction founder Melina Abdullah

BLM founders (from left) include Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi (pictured together left in 2015) and LA faction founder Melina Abdullah (right photo)

D'Zhane Parker, left, Cicley Gay, center, and Shalomyah Bowers pose for a portrait on Friday, May 13, 2022, in Atlanta

D’Zhane Parker, left, Cicley Gay, center, and Shalomyah Bowers pose for a portrait on Friday, May 13, 2022, in Atlanta

The foundation invested $32million in stocks from the $90million it received as donations amid racial justice protests in 2020. 

The investment is expected to become an endowment to ensure the foundation’s work continues in the future, organizers say. 

But still, after spending more than $37million on grants, real estate, consultants and other expenses, the BLM movement is still worth tens of millions of dollars.

Also raising eyebrows was the fact that during the last fiscal year, Cullors was the foundation board’s sole voting director and held no board meetings, according to the filing. 

Although that is permissible under Delaware law, where the foundation is incorporated, that governance structure gives the appearance that Cullors alone decided who to hire and how to spend donations. 

However, current board members allege that was never the truth.

Cullors has repeatedly denied claims that she took money from BLM for personal matters and has reiterated that all the purchases and transactions - including the lavish 6,500 square-foot Studio City property home - were legitimate

Cullors has repeatedly denied claims that she took money from BLM for personal matters and has reiterated that all the purchases and transactions – including the lavish 6,500 square-foot Studio City property home – were legitimate 

The new filing also revealed paid the foundation $390 over her uses of the 6,500 square-foot Studio City property in Los Angeles for two private events

The new filing also revealed paid the foundation $390 over her uses of the 6,500 square-foot Studio City property in Los Angeles for two private events

‘This 990 reveals that (the BLM foundation) is the largest black abolitionist nonprofit organization that has ever existed in the nation’s history. What we’re doing has never been done before,’ said Shalomyah Bowers, who serves as the foundation’s board secretary.

‘We needed to get dollars out to grassroots organizations doing the work of abolition, doing the work that would shift the moral tide of this world towards one that does not have or believe in police, prisons, jails or violence,’ he said.

Bowers, whose firm received the lion’s share of money spent on consultants in the last fiscal year, hit back at the allegations that the foundation has a conflict of interest and said the last BLM board approved the contract with his firm when he was not a board member.

‘Our firm stepped in when Black Lives Matter had no structure and no staff,’ he said. ‘We filled the gap, when nothing else existed. But let me be crystal clear, there was no conflict of interest.’

The foundation says it will launch a ‘transparency and accountability center’ on its website to make its financial documents available for public inspection, Bowers added.

Bowers was named as one of three members of BLM’s board of directors earlier this month.

He serves with board chair Cicley Gay, a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, and ‘DZhane Parker, a member of BLM’s Los Angeles chapter whose work focuses on the impact of mass incarceration on families.

Cullors resigned from BLM last year amid a wave of scrutiny surrounding the charity's finances. Controversy surrounding the organization's finances has elicited probes by at least two state attorneys general. Damon Turner and Patrisse Cullors are pictured together in 2019

Cullors resigned from BLM last year amid a wave of scrutiny surrounding the charity’s finances. Controversy surrounding the organization’s finances has elicited probes by at least two state attorneys general. Damon Turner and Patrisse Cullors are pictured together in 2019

During the last fiscal year, Cullors was the foundation board's sole voting director and held no board meetings, according to the filing. She is pictured with her oldest brother Paul

During the last fiscal year, Cullors was the foundation board’s sole voting director and held no board meetings, according to the filing. She is pictured with her oldest brother Paul

‘We are decolonizing philanthropy,’ Gay said. ‘We, as a board, are charged with disrupting traditional standards of what grant making in philanthropy looks like. It means investing in black communities, trusting them with their dollars.’

But YahNé Ndgo, an activist and former organizer with the BLM chapter in Philadelphia, said Cullors reneged on a promise to hand over control of the foundation’s resources to grassroots organizers.

‘When resources came in, when opportunities came in, (the foundation) alone would be the ones to decide who was going to take advantage of them, without having to take any consideration of the other organizers whose work was giving them the access to these resources and opportunities in the first place,’ said Ndgo, who organized a group of chapters that confronted the foundation over issues of transparency and accountability.

In a recent interview, Cullors acknowledged the foundation was ill-prepared to handle the moment. 

The tax filing lists Cullors as an uncompensated founder and executive director. She resigned last year. 

Cullors now owns three properties in Los Angeles - including this one in the hills above the city. All were purchased in 2020 following the success of the foundation's fundraising campaign

Cullors now owns three properties in Los Angeles – including this one in the hills above the city. All were purchased in 2020 following the success of the foundation’s fundraising campaign

She also owns the above home, valued at $1.4million, which is located in scenic Topanga Canyon

She also owns the above home, valued at $1.4million, which is located in scenic Topanga Canyon

The foundation also paid nearly $140,000 in severance to a former managing director who had been at odds with local BLM chapter organizers, prior to Cullors’ tenure as director.

Despite scrutiny into its finances, BLM did give away some of its money to support racial justice causes.

Twelve BLM chapters, including those in Boulder, Colorado; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Los Angeles; Gary, Indiana; and Philadelphia, received pledges for grants of up to $500,000. The family foundations created in honor of Floyd and others killed by police and vigilantes – Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant – each received contributions of $200,000.

The Michael O.D. Brown: We Love Our Sons & Daughters Foundation, run by Michael Brown Jr.’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, was approved for a larger multi-year grant of $1.4million. A representative of the Brown foundation revealed an initial $500,000 had been received in 2021.

Among its larger grants are $2.3 million to the Living Through Giving Foundation, a nonprofit charity platform that encourages giving at the local level; and $1.5million to Team Blackbird, LLC, a rapid response communications and movement strategy project that increases the visibility of movement organizations.

The tax filing does not reveal the foundation’s largest donors.

‘Transparency and accountability is so important to us, but so is trust,’ said Gay, the BLM foundation chair. ‘Presenting (donor) names after the fact, at this point, would likely be a betrayal of that trust.

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