Black Lives Matter: More Money, More Problems?

Listen to this episode

S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. The Black Lives Matter movement has emerged as a leading force in the fight to prevent police killings of African-Americans. But a recent story is raising questions about whether key leaders of that movement have lost their way.

S2: People have been asking not even outside the populace about how the money is being spent for Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. But the chapters themselves have been struggling and have been seeing people go homeless and dedicated their lives to this. They’ve been asking for years, how is this money being spent and why aren’t we getting burst? Of course.

Advertisement

S1: Is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation in a crisis? And what could that mean for the movement? Coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag marking the death of Trayvon Martin and the failure to find justice after his killing. In the year since, Black Lives Matter has grown into a movement with international recognition and power. It’s always important to remember that Black Lives Matter is a movement, but also a political ideology and a complex web of organizations. The movement has inspired millions to protest police violence. The ideology has influenced American politics for the last decade, and the organizations have pushed for social justice and policy. Now, one of those core groups, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, is the subject of a recent report about its finances, specifically its purchase of a $6 million home in Malibu. Under the guidance of the group’s former leader, Patrisse Cullors. The story, published in New York magazine, has fueled questions about the foundation’s judgment and whether it’s still a credible voice in the BLM movement. Investigative journalist Sean Campbell is a reporter behind the story and he joins us now. Sean Campbell. Welcome to a ward.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Thank you. Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.

S1: So as far as your reporting goes, what is the difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and the specific organization that you investigated for your story?

S2: Black Lives Matter as a movement is a collective ideology where people and organizations that agree with the statement that Black Lives Matter and they look to end police brutality. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. While it may have become one of the more prominent and more well known of the organizations within that movement, it is not the movement itself. It is a separate organization that has collected money, some through nonprofits and for profit entities, and it has control over its own finances as it operated through numerous areas of the nonprofit sector.

Advertisement

S1: So is there a Black Lives Matter organization that’s different from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation? Like, Can I give to a local BLM? Or is there a national BLM I can give to you that is different from this? Or is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation the umbrella for all of the local chapters?

S2: Yeah, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is the umbrella for chapters that are affiliated with it. At one point there were up to 45 chapters that were associated with the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. And as things evolved over time, with more questions around financing and how money was being spent, that number winnowed down to around five now. So at one point it was 45. Then last time before the chapters were taken off the website, it was 17. Now there’s about five or six. Last time I saw some sort of an official count on that. Now there are local organizations and local groups that still have the name Black Lives Matter. They’ve had that name for years, so maybe they didn’t want to change their name or they still believe in that cordiality. But they aren’t a part of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. A good example of this is a group called the BLM ten, where in November of 2020, after 90 million some dollars came in to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, they began to really push for financial transparency. They had been pushing for years. They weren’t getting a lot of answers. And it came to a head when they knew there was a lot of money coming in and they had no clarity as to how that money was being spent, where the funds were going, and they themselves were suffering because they didn’t have funds to do their on the ground organizing. So they broke away. They put out a letter calling for accountability. Now, a lot of those groups still maintain the name Black Lives Matter, Save Philadelphia, Black Lives Matter, D.C. They’re known for that. They filed non-profit paperwork, some of them with that name. Now, there are other groups that used to have the name Black Lives Matter, and they were tired of being not just affiliated, but associated with the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. So they changed their names entirely because they didn’t want that ideology or what was being done and said by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, as in some way speaking for them or even people think that it was speaking for them.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: The big sexy tagline The thing that everybody’s paying attention to with the story that you wrote for New York Magazine is that the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, a specific organization with BLM in the title, purchased a $6 million house in Malibu. Talk to us about this house and what was the process and the explanation that the organization used for buying it.

S2: This house itself is a very luxury property. It has a main property and an adjacent property as a studio, multiple fireplaces, one of which is an outdoor Italian marble fireplace. There’s half a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms. There’s numerous other amenities, like a recording studio. And this was purchased without many people within the organization knowing about it and definitely not being released to the general public. Now, there was an explanation that was given by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. But honestly, this explanation was given after I had contacted them about the home, after I learned about the property. And then I. Trace back the origin of the purchase and how it was purchased. I then threw inside information. In my story, I reference a memo that I had received after I had contacted them that they were then going to say that the House was dedicated for an artists retreat where they could use it as an influencer house and they could use this to promote the movement. And I know for a fact that this was being done specifically to deflate news breaking of this nearly $6 million home purchase. One of the other things that we learned and they’ve said since that is that they also wanted to use it as a safe house, is kind of their justification for this. Now, this safe house is in obvious tension with the idea of it also being a house where people are going to be influencing potentially millions of people. That’s a very public space safe house. You actually want to be anonymous. And also, if you’re going to have a safe house, there’s probably better ways you can spend money for a safe house than a nearly $6 million luxury item in Malibu, as you had said before. How I know how the property was used were that there were leaders that had to stay there for a number of days and they felt their lives were threatened. That’s what they say as to why they stayed there. And also that Patrisse Cullors had been using the property to create a number of YouTube videos that were only on her personal YouTube channel. So this wasn’t on the Black Lives Matter Global Network, YouTube channel. This was Patrisse Cullors on YouTube, where she created a number of videos from her taking a peach cobbler with her aunt to reacting to viral TikTok. Videos of Karens. And one that we went through a conversation with in the article was a conversation between Patrisse Cullors, Melina Abdullah, Alicia Garza. When they’re sitting out in the patio of this lavish home in front of this Italian marble fireplace, talking about the work that they had done during the movement, and honestly kind of pushing aside some of the comments they had received in the past, especially when it came to Patrisse Cullors having previously been called out for owning multiple homes worth nearly $3 million at the time of purchase.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Really? Take a short break. When we come back, more on misconduct allegations at the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. This is Jason Johnson, host of a word Slate’s podcast about race and politics and everything else. I want to take a moment to welcome our new listeners. If you’ve discovered a word and liked what you hear, please subscribe, rate and review wherever you listen to a podcast and let us know what you think by writing us at a word at Slate.com. Thank you. You’re looking to work with Jason Johnson today. We’re talking about charges of financial impropriety at the BLM Global Network Foundation with journalist Sean Campbell. So what Patrisse Cullors was criticized for in an article that I think came out last year was owning a bunch of different homes. Right. And if I understand the chronology properly, she left the Black Lives Matter Global Network after that article came out.

Advertisement

S2: Yes. Roughly a month afterwards is when she announced her resignation. Right.

S1: My first question to you about that, because I think, again, a lot of this regular people hear and they sort of confuse things. These were all homes that Patrisse Cullors bought with her own money. They weren’t purchased with like organization money, correct?

S2: As far as we know, yes, that is correct.

S1: Okay. So that’s the first thing I want to make sure is laid out. And she was no longer with the organization when you tried to talk to the founders of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. How receptive were they to talking to you? I know that seems like a silly question, but like for regular people, they don’t know. I mean, sometimes folks are sometimes at the law and order where they’re like, no, I won’t talk to you. And other times they’re like, Oh yeah, we’ll chat with you. And they don’t realize, you know, they don’t see, is it a problem? How did people respond when you wanted to reach out? And what did you tell them you’re writing about?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: They were not receptive at all. I would say especially early on when I first sent out my as standard practice. So I learned about the home purchase. I learned that a man named Dave Pasco had purchased the home. De Pasco, financial manager for Patrisse Cullors, is a consultant firm and also the father of her child, his LLC. And through that, I was kind of like, Well, this seems odd. This is a nearly $6 million purchase in cash. The person at question, it was not the kind of person who would just have $6 million lying around. So things seem strange there. I asked them questions I laid out, basically. Here is what I have for how the home was purchased. Who purchased it? The date that it happened, and questions on how the home was used. Because I also knew from sources that I had that there had been coordination with a security hub that Black Lives Matter was using to monitor property where Patrisse Cullors is. Brother was the head of the security there, monitoring not only that home, but also her other properties that again, we believe she purchased with her own funds. And there was also non-disclosure agreements that we had also seen that had the names of people who were working maintenance like pool, lawn care, housekeeping. Her mother had a non-disclosure agreement for a housecleaning contract. So these are family members close and also her sister who also we saw and in the associated with her as well. So these are people, her direct family that were tied closely in with this home. And these are all part of my questions. How was it used? How did you guys use this? Why is the only place we’re seeing this used for Patrisse Cullors, his personal YouTube channel and some other questions. And the first response that I received was actually not even sent to me directly. It was sent to the one of the head lawyers at New York magazine, Vox Media, from Patrisse Cullors, his lawyer, saying that my questions were defamatory and also that they would like another 24 hours to respond. Now, after that initial contact and that 24 hour extension, which we agreed to. I then learned that that immediately sent them into a damage control mode where they had to figure out a reason to explain the existence of this house. And through those conversations and also the memo had confirmed that the House was purchased with BLM funds, and they weren’t even certain exactly how it was going to fit in legally with their finances and also explaining just how they were using the resources in and around the home. Now, after that, or through those conversations or through those conversations that I believe took place that actually I know took place, and the memo part of their strategy was to delay talking to me and seeing if they could break the story with another newsroom or in some way announce information that would deflate the story. That was actually the language that was used in the memo, finding a way to deflate the story. I’ve since learned to that I shouldn’t say learn, but it’s out there. It’s been reported that they’ve had a gathering with other media, especially within the black media. I was not invited to that gathering, but I was not a part of any of those conversations. So since then, I have not had any contact in terms of. Disclosing additional information. I have been invited to any of those conversations.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Some of the pushback from supporters of the Black Lives Matter, Global Network Foundation and even some of their members has been look, lots of other large nonprofits purchase buildings, United Way, any AKC Foundation, other organizations buy big buildings as an investment. Why is Black Lives Matter doing that? So problematic? Why does that seem to be something that’s worth scrutiny when lots of large nonprofits purchase real estate? What’s your response to that sort of pushback?

S2: So first I want to say something else, too, that in the reporting we don’t have any allegations like these are all facts. These are all details that we have. Other people can make allegations. When I reached out to experts about this, why might this be a problem? Well, for one, I think the biggest one is that this home was on the books for over a year, 17 months. And the only reason it became well known was at least the timing of it was because I had asked them about it. And up until that point, it was only used by Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah, who are connected within the organization. And for Patrisse Cullors, his personal YouTube channel. As far as we know, it wasn’t like this was being utilized for a number of reasons as far. There were actually members of the organization. And were very surprised to learn of the existence of this home. Outside of just the general population. So when you talk about any of these other groups, you know, when they make a purchase like this, it’s known, it’s talked about. So there hadn’t been any of that. So that’s an issue right there. And when I talk to experts about this, you know, that’s one of those things where they’re just like, well, that raises a lot of questions. You know, when you have a security force that’s headed by the brother, when you have staff for the home, also related to Patrisse Cullors, when you have not very many people knowing about it, when you also have it being used for a personal YouTube channel. All of these are nonprofit resources seemingly being utilized by a private individual. Now, that’s not kosher with nonprofit governance. Nonprofits can own property, and they can use nonprofits for the mission of the nonprofit. But a nonprofit can’t buy property for a private individual or buy property and resources specifically, specifically for the use of a private individual. Another thing, too, is that when we’re talking about order of priorities, when you look at the address on the filings for the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, it is not a physical address or an address that is a building. It is a mailbox in Oakland. So if you’re talking about purchasing property, any of those other organizations that you’ve mentioned, they have other buildings that are office spaces that they at least lease, rent, etc., before they go about buying multimillion dollar properties that have. There’s a question as to how those properties were being used. So yeah, and there’s plenty of that. And there’s also just the dedication of resources. It has been a known problem within the Black Lives Matter movement that many of the activists who are doing on that, on the ground work they’re so passionate for and this doesn’t pay much that they are. Going homeless. They’re going hungry. And they’ve approached the organization about this. Not only have they been asking how is how is the money being used? Are we going to be seeing any of this money? They said we have people that don’t have homes. When you have all these other issues within the movement and money that’s honestly being collected off the work of people within the movement, how are those funds being used? When we talk about, you know, I think what people talk about the Red Cross or they talk about we even talk about purchases of property with reporters or the ACLU. Now, the people who work for those, the doctors, the lawyers, they are facing homelessness at the level or extent that we’re seeing with people who are working in activism well within the Black Lives Matter movement.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more about the controversy surrounding the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. This is a word we Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson. Today, we’re talking about allegations of financial impropriety at the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation with investigative reporter Sean Campbell. One of the things, when Black Lives Matter, the movement started before specific organizations, because, again, I want to make it clear to the audience that there are lots of different organizations that have Black Lives Matter in the name. We’re talking about a situation where you can’t lump them all together. But one of the the sort of themes or attitudes of the movement has always been, hey, we don’t have a central leader. We don’t want to have some charismatic leader as a man or woman who either one can be taken down by a scandal. Two could be, you know, assassinated by the state or some vigilante. They prided themselves on not having a centralized leadership. Do you think a lack of centralized leadership might have led to what you discovered with this housing purchase and some of the other decisions?

Advertisement

S2: So the first part of that answer is, even though they’ve said that they are, they don’t say leadership is leaderless. They say leader, full organization. I think there is a clear leadership structure here with the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. I mean, even just for filing of paperwork, there has to be an executive director. That executive director was Patrisse Cullors for a number of years. So there was a very clear leadership structure and who was actually controlling the finances and all the paperwork and things like that. But to the point of does there need to be a central leadership structure? Is that part of the issue here? I would say no. There are numerous kinds of models where you can operate without a centralized leadership and that don’t have like one person at the head. There’s a model that and I want to make sure I get his name right, because I talked with him for the first story about a model that he he coined as the starfish kind of a model. This is a quasi konadu. He’s a professor of African history at Colgate University. He talked about a structure that would he felt would help the movement. This is obviously based off of his research and looking into previous civil rights movements, like the 1960s and seventies and black power politics of the seventies, where you have autonomous groups that would operate independently, work independently, and then get together to make decisions and how things were going to be done, organize and then break apart. So like a starfish, you have multiple arms stretching out in different ways and they might connected a central hub and then they can break apart and go about doing their own thing. And if you think more about like the actual anatomy of a starfish, which probably nerds like me now, no, no foot or piece of a starfish is actually connected to a central brain. Each piece is operating independently toward a common goal.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Which is they can be cut off and they still function. Yes.

S2: So all of that is a model that can theoretically work and has worked in the past when it comes to civil rights movements, especially black power politics. But that is not what has been here, where we have a core group of people, a handful of people, honestly, who have controlled majority of the media messaging and funds. I mean, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation owns the website domain, Black Lives Matter dot com. So when people just Google Black Lives Matter, they’re directed to Black Lives Matter dot com, which is the Global Network Foundation. Now, all those funds coming into that one area, there isn’t a pool that the starfish can utilize and each of the individual groups can take advantage of. As far as I’ve learned from talking with people, seeing emails and seeing other communications, despite being asked time and again, how much money do we have? How is the money being used? When are we going to see some money? There’s been constant pushback by people within this core leadership of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation to not disclose that information and to keep it as opaque as possible, even down to the basic leadership structure. Local groups have been asking back to 2016. Who exactly is in charge? Who’s making these decisions? The organization seems to be funding, doing this and that. And we don’t know who’s making these these decisions because we didn’t agree on any of this.

S1: Do you think it’s possible that Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation as a relatively new organization? Because, again, the movement’s ten years, right? It’s a relatively newish organization. You have a lot of people who are learning on the job. They’re getting a lot of different advice. And then also suddenly, although there have always been questions, they are just flush with cash after George Floyd’s death. Do you think there’s a possibility that this could be mismanagement based on inexperience, based on taking bad. Vice? Or do you think, based on your investigation, that this does imply sort of intentional or tacit acceptance of corruption? Because that’s, frankly, what this all boils down to. If it’s consistent incompetence because suddenly people are getting millions of dollars that they didn’t expect and they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s like, okay, that’s bad, but that can happen. But if it’s not, you know, we got a pattern here of these people raising money off of dead black children and then using it to stuff their own pockets, because that’s the core issue here. Which do you think it is after doing your investigation?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I don’t want to speculate here. I don’t have the full picture. I think, you know, there could be one way or the other when it comes to answering that specifically. Now, I don’t have the powers to get all the documentation to actually say, like, this is exactly what it is. So I don’t want to speculate on that. But what I do want to address is the one part of learning on the job and all of that. Now we’re talking about people who have said that they were leaders within non-profit sector and had their own nonprofit years ago. Now, most of the most basic nonprofit structure who are just getting it started would entail that you learn and get up to speed with some of these basics. Now, Patrisse Cullors had given a public media statement where she had said that that she thought talking about the finances was triggering, endangering to herself and others. Now, this is the basics of nonprofit structure and governance. And she’s had multiple nonprofits connected to her and also the people within the Black Lives Matter Go Network Foundation. So now when we talk about, you know, a certain bit of naivete or not necessarily knowing how to go about doing these kinds of things, we’re one. This isn’t new. Also, if you’re learning on the job and you’re actually legitimately struggling with this thing, there’s a question of why are you and others starting your own nonprofit groups and then connecting them and this and this. If you’re so troubled by really organizing this one nonprofit that’s actually getting funds and there wasn’t just a windfall that came in with the death of George Floyd, that was the biggest windfall. But from the financial documents with thousand current, the organization that was fiscal is sponsoring Managing Black Lives Matters, Global Network Foundations funds up until summer of 2020. Through those financial documents, they showed that Black Lives Matter was getting millions of dollars each year. So there was a lot of money already coming in. Not a huge amount of money, but a significant amount of money. And the story that I had done before the break of the house, how some of the funds were utilized by Patrisse Cullors is other nonprofits. There is questions there because when we talk about not only this organization, the Black Lives Matter Global never foundation, but Patrisse Cullors has her own nonprofit Dignity and Power now, and she also is head of Reform L.A. Jails. Now, other reporting I had done shows that the chief financial officer for Black Lives Matter, Global Network Foundation, Dignity and Power, now the treasurer of Reform, L.A. Jails and the Black Lives Matter PAC is one person that showed me about. So the person writing all the checks is one person. When you look at how money was spent, the Reform L.A. jails, which engages in political activity, they have to disclose how much money is being spent. A significant of all the funds that were spent in 2019, went to four people, went to Patrisse Cullors through her consulting firm, went to Shlomi Bowers, went to Asher Bagley, who was friends with and helped Patrisse Cullors write her memoir, her first memoir. And Damian Turner, the father of Patrisse Cullors, his child. So I’m willing to give leeway and people learning on the job. But at some point, I think people really have to question how is this governance being done? And then also, if you’re struggling so much with maintaining one organization, how are you starting multiple other organizations within the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation? It was announced in their impact statement that they not only had this foundation, but they decided to start a Black Lives Matter political action committee. They decided to start Black Lives Matter grassroots, which is a separate entity that’s supposed to be working for the local on the ground movement, which there’s questions there as to how much is actually being done to help the local on the ground movement and those local groups. So there’s a lot of things here which raise questions in the spending and the interconnectedness, in the constant shifting in and around funds and organizations that when I ask experts about this, they have questions and they’re like, you can only go so far with this. And to someone else might want to investigate and might want to look and see how things are going on because there are, they believe, serious concerns here.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Shawn, I want to understand this. You said that a lot of the money that was raised, it seems to keep going to a certain number of people. How much money from which entity went to one small group of people? I just I just want to have that clear so that we’re not confusing who’s receiving these funds and how much they’re receiving and and what percentage of the overall funding was going to a particular group of people.

S2: To get an idea of the spending. We can look at some of the other nonprofits that have been started and run by Patrisse Cullors, who was the executive director. Now, looking back at her L.A. nonprofits Dignity and power now and we formula jails, reform L.A. Jails is a political action committee based in California. So when they spend money, they have to disclose it publicly. They have to say how much they’ve given and whom they given it to. Now, that organization raised in 2019, roughly $1.4 million and more than half of that was paid can be traced back to four individuals and traced back to Shlomi Bowers, who is also the chief financial officer for Dignity and Power, now treasurer for Black Lives Matter PAC, Treasurer for Reform L.A. Jails, and is the Deputy Executive Director and financial manager for the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. And Patrice Consulting, which is owned by Patrisse Cullors, Asha mandela, who helped Patrisse Cullors write her memoir When They Call You a Terrorist, and Damian Turner, the father of Patrisse Cullors as child. So there’s more than half of $1.4 million went to can be traced back to those four individuals.

S1: I want to close with this because I think is the key question where does the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation go from here? The Black Lives Matter movement obviously will continue. But where does the organization that you specifically studied, where do they go from here?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: That’s for the organization to figure out. That’s for the funders, the donors, the people who are connected, the organization to really ask themselves how much they want to put into the foundation and how the foundation is going to address some of the issues that, again, the not allegations but facts that I’ve raised in my reporting have brought forward. There are allegations that can be made, but that’s for other people besides me, for people who have oversight authority, can legit ask and demand certain filings, certain communications and other things to determine for certain. I can’t say for certain. And it’s not my place to say. That’s not my job. My job is simply to report the facts as I find them, as I relate them. Because people have been asking not even outside, you know, in the populace about how the money has been spent for Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. But the chapters themselves have been struggling and have been seeing people go homeless and have dedicated their lives to this. They’ve been asking for years, how is this money being spent and why aren’t we getting more support?

S1: Sean Campbell is a writer and an investigative journalist. His report on the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation Network was published in New York Magazine. You can find a link on our show page. Sean Campbell. Thanks so much for your time.

S2: Thank you. I appreciate it.

S1: And that’s the word for this week. The show’s e-mail is a word at Slate dot com. This episode was produced by Jasmine Ellis. Alicia montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts at Slate. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for Word.