‘It needs an audit very badly…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is calling on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an allegedly racist organization that spends millions defaming its political targets, all while enjoying a tax-exempt status.
But it’s not a white nationalist group—it’s the once-vaunted Southern Poverty Law Center.
While designated as a nonprofit, the SPLC has more than half a billion dollars in assets—much of it in offshore accounts—and uses its well-lined pockets predominantly to attack conservative political opponents, Cotton told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Tuesday.
“It needs an audit very badly,” Cotton said. “I hope the IRS will do that as part of their investigation and unveil to the American people that the Southern Poverty Law Center has becoming nothing but a racket.”
The SPLC’s $518 million in total assets through last October included $121 million in non-U.S. equity funds, with accounts in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Bermuda, according to a tax-filings analysis initially done by the Washington Free Beacon.
“I don’t know many charitable advisors who say it is best practice to send your endowment to overseas accounts in the Caribbean,” Cotton told Carlson.
However, it isn’t just the potential financial fraud that is at issue. Cotton said that how the SPLC uses the money has also been extremely problematic.
Despite reporting that it spent only $61,000 on legal services last year, the SPLC paid $20 million in salaries, with all of its key officers and trustees making no less than $140,000.
In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Tuesday, Cotton noted that the primary source of the SPLC’s massive fundraising operations was its political smear campaigns.
“Funding lawsuits, to include left-wing lawsuits in what you think is the public interest, is a tax-exempt purpose,” Cotton told Carlson. “Serial, repeated defamation against your political opponents is not a tax-exempt purpose.”
Last November, one of the SPLC’s affiliate groups launched a high-profile ad campaign against Christian-based religious-liberties advocates Alliance Defending Freedom—including a Times Square billboard that read “No Gays Allowed.”
The pro-immigration-reform Center for Immigration Studies also sued in January after being included on the SPLC’s notorious “hate map,” frequently cited by left-wing media outlets as an authority on designating right-wing extremism. (The SPLC has said it is not set up to document the behavior of violent left-wing extremists like Antifa.)
“It’s fine if you don’t agree with those organizations,” Cotton told Carlson. “There are plenty of groups on the left I don’t agree with, but I don’t try to stigmatize them as a ‘hate group’ and then go pedal that to CNN, New York Times or try and attack their donors.”
In the past, the nearly 50-year-old, Alabama-based organization’s main objective was helping to advance the civil rights movement. Now, even minorities are unsafe from the SPLC’s politically motivated attacks.
In fact, “they have really become kind of a hate group themselves,” Cotton said.
The SPLC published an “extremist file” on Dr. Ben Carson, a prominent African–American conservative and current Housing and Urban Development secretary, during his 2016 presidential run.
It also published materials last year calling Islamic scholar Maajid Nawaz an “anti-Muslim extremist” and “white nationalist” for openly speaking about problems in the Muslim community.
The group was forced to apologize to Carson, and it agreed to a $3.4 million settlement with Nawaz. But many others feel they have been wrongly harmed—and that includes the SPLC’s own employees.
Ironically, the SPLC’s biggest criticism of late has come from within, following resignations and staff letters alleging serious misconduct from its top brass.
Leaked internal communications revealed that its mostly white leadership was awash in complaints from both women and minorities, which its leaders long attempted to cover up.
Morris Dees, the group’s iconic co-founder, was fired in March over multiple, years-long instances of alleged sexual harassment.
The group’s board subsequently announced it was bringing in Michelle Obama‘s former chief of staff, Tina Tchen to try to clean up the internal culture, which prompted the recent resignation of SPLC president Richard Cohen.
“Based on these reports, and in the interest of protecting taxpayer dollars from a racist and sexist slush fund devoted to defamation, I believe that the SPLC’s conduct warrants a serious and thorough investigation,” Cotton wrote in his letter to the IRS.
Cotton questioned the motives behind the hiring of Tchen, who drew headlines last month for intervening in the prosecution against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
The state’s attorney in Chicago controversially dropped charges for 16 counts of disorderly conduct after Smollett’s high-profile hate-crime hoax.
Cotton said hiring the Obama surrogate may be part of an effort to convert the group into a super-PAC prior to the 2020 election. That designation would allow it to openly fund its political attacks, provided it does not directly coordinate with specific campaign.
“Tax-exempt charities should not be coordinating with any political campaign, they shouldn’t be engaged in political activities,” Cotton told Carlson.
Although the former president and first lady have kept a low profile in recent months, as a crowed field of Democratic primary opponents begins to duke it out, Michelle Obama fueled speculation of a potential 2020 run in public statements during a book tour last fall.
“I think it says something about the Southern Poverty Law Center that they recently hired Tina Tchen … to come on and fix their workplace culture,” Cotton said, “or perhaps take advantage of the $500 million they have and form a super-PAC to attack the president and the Republican party next year during the election.”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.