Natasha Anderson, Daily Mail, May 17, 2022
Newly released tax filings revealed how Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors used charity funds to pay her friends and family large sums for various ‘consulting’ services, as well as charter a private flight.
The documents reveal 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.
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.
The former BLM leader did admit previously that her sister, mother, and brother were employed with the organization.
The revelations come courtesy of a 63-page Form 990, the annual filing required for organizations to maintain tax-exempt status as a nonprofit.
This is the BLM foundation’s first public accounting of its finances since incorporating in 2017. As a fledgling nonprofit, it had been under the fiscal sponsorship of a well-established charity, and wasn’t required to publicly disclose its financials until it became an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit in December 2020.
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 $42million in net assets. The foundation had an operating budget of about $4million, according to a board member.
Nearly $6million 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.
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.
‘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.’
Controversy surrounding the organization’s finances has elicited probes by at least two state attorneys general.
Board members said they are cooperating with civil investigations in Indiana and Ohio, and they have turned over relevant documents to those authorities.
The foundation 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.
‘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.’
BLM’s disclosure filing revealed that nearly $26million, or 70 percent of its expenses, were grants to organizations and families in the last fiscal year.
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 $2.3million 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.
The BLM movement first emerged in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. But it was the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, that made the slogan ‘Black lives matter’ a rallying cry for progressives and a favorite target of derision for conservatives.
BLM co-founders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Ay Tometi had pledged to build a decentralized organization governed by the consensus of BLM chapters. But just three years into existence, Cullors was the only movement founder involved in the organization.
And in 2020, a tidal wave of contributions in the aftermath of protests over George Floyd´s murder by Minneapolis police meant the BLM organization needed much more infrastructure.
When Cullors revealed the windfall of donations last year, local chapter organizers and families of police brutality victims reacted angrily. Until then, the foundation had not been transparent with the most devoted BLM organizers, many of whom accused Cullors of shutting them out of decisions about how financial resources would be allocated.
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.
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.