In the tragic, whirlwind year of 2020, with racial-justice protests prompted by the killing of Black men and women by police officers, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation raised $90 million, much of it small donations from rank-and-file supporters of its cause. A recent tax filing from the group shows that by the middle of last year, more than half of that money had been granted to local organizations or spent on consultants and real estate, leaving the foundation with $42 million in assets.
The foundation’s finances have been subjected to criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Many local groups that are part of the Black Lives Matter movement have called for more transparency and a greater role in decision making, as well as more money for the organizations led by activists on the ground. At the same time, opponents of the broader cause have tried to portray spending by one of the group’s founders as evidence of widespread mismanagement in a manner that appears intended to impugn the cause as well as the group.
“No one expected the foundation to grow at this pace and to this scale,” Cicley Gay, chair of the board of directors, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Now, we are taking time to build efficient infrastructure to run the largest Black, abolitionist, philanthropic organization to ever exist in the United States.”
Last month New York Magazine reported that funds raised by the foundation were used to buy a house in California for nearly $6 million in cash in October 2020. The tax filing shows property worth $5.9 million, held by a Delaware company. Identifying information about the company “is not being released here due to safety and security concerns and threats to B.L.M.G.N.F.’s leadership, staff and creators,” the form said.
The release of Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation was the first time the group offered an official accounting of its finances. It is also a delayed snapshot. The form covers the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021, nearly a year ago.
Much of the outside critical attention on the group has focused on Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter. Ms. Cullors stepped down as executive director of the foundation in May 2021. In an interview with The Associated Press at the time, she decried “right-wing attacks that tried to discredit my character.”
A family member, Paul Cullors, was listed on the tax form as receiving payment for “professional security services” amounting to $840,993.
“I think they are doing what a lawyer in this situation would advise them to do, which is be as open as you possibly can be and be as accurate as you possibly can be,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofits. “They’re trying to be transparent. They’re trying to right the ship. There’s still work to do.”
In 2021, the foundation released its own report, not a mandatory federal tax filing but a voluntary accounting of its funds, in which it said that it raised $90 million in 2020, with the average donation being $30.64. At that time, the group said that it spent $8.4 million on operating expenses while disbursing $21.7 million in grants to about 30 organizations and to 11 Black Lives Matter chapters around the country.
On the tax form, the foundation said that for the overlapping fiscal year it received contributions and grants totaling $76.9 million, with total expenditures of $37.7 million. Those expenses included grants of $500,000 each to Black Lives Matter groups in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and elsewhere.
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