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The founding branch of Black Lives Matter could lose its nonprofit status if the organization’s leaders do not provide its financial records to the IRS in less than two months.
The California Department of Justice (CDOJ) sent a letter to the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) on Jan. 31 alleging the organization has failed to submit its annual financial reports and it is in delinquent status.
California Attorney General Ron Bonta said if the documents are not submitted within 60 days of the letter, the BLMGN will lose its tax-exempt status and could face tax penalties.
The organization’s leaders would also be held “personally liable” for late fees for every month or partial month the report is late, he said. The Justice Department and Washington state ordered the agency to stop fundraising. BLMGN reportedly ceased online solicitations on Wednesday.
“Charitable assets cannot be used to pay these avoidable costs,” Bonta wrote. “Accordingly, directors, trustees, officers and return preparers responsible for failure to timely file the above-described report(s) are personally liable for payment of all penalties, interest and other costs incurred to restore exempt status.”
However, there is no recognized leader of the organization that received $90 million in donations in 2020, according to news reports. The organization’s executive director, and co-founder of the movement Patrisse Cullors, stepped down in May after being criticized for her multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio. The other co-founders had already cut ties with the organization, and everyone else declined to assume the role.
Cullors was credited with first tweeting the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in July 2013 after a Florida jury acquitted Georgia Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. Her friend and activist Alicia Garza posted a love letter to Black people on Facebook following the verdict saying “Our lives matter,” to which Cullors replied with the hashtag.
New York activist Opal Tometi then used the hashtag to mobilize a collective of organizations and activists. Garza and Tometi have since left the organization.
Martin was a Black teenager shot and killed by Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who was the self-styled leader of a neighborhood watch patrol. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of second-degree murder.
The BLMGN did not officially become a charity until late 2020. Before then it received funding through two other charities. According to the organization’s impact report, it collected $90 million in 2020, a bulk of which, according to the Washington Examiner, was collected in response to the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020.
The Washington Examiner said the BLMGN spent $8.4 million in operating expenses in 2020 and distributed $21.7 million in grants to 33 other organizations. It ended the year with $60 million, the paper reported.
According to the IRS, the charitable organizations have until May 15 of the following year to submit the required document. The BLMGN requested a six-month extension. The documents were then due on Nov. 15.
Cullors stepped down on May 21, weeks after a news report revealed she had recently purchased four high-end properties in California and Georgia. She then appointed two senior executives to lead the organizations, but both women said they did not accept the offer.
“Although a media advisory was released indicating that we were tapped to play the role of senior co-executives at BLMGN, we were not able to come to an agreement with the acting Leadership Council about our scope of work and authority,” Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele, the appointees, said. “As a result, we did not have the opportunity to serve in this capacity.”
The organization is not only without a leader, but the CDOJ alleges the address on the tax form for the organization is incorrect.
Cullors faced criticism for buying the properties worth a total of $3.2 million, but she said they were not purchased with BLM funding. Cullors published two books and had a deal with YouTube and Warner Bros. She also co-owns a gallery.
Cullors told reporters she garnered the properties to maintain financial stability. Family members of Black people killed by police were some of the most vocal critics of the purchases.
Lisa Simpson, the mother of an 18-year-old Black man killed by police in 2016, said the organization was using her loved one’s death for publicity and profit.
Cullors told the Los Angeles Times all of the allegations have led to post-traumatic stress. Adding that she lives in constant fear because the ordeal has made her a bigger target for assassination threats, a frequent recurrence for Cullors while leading BLM. She checked herself into a mental treatment facility shortly after stepping down.
“I really thought I was gonna die,” Cullors told the Los Angeles Times. “I thought I was either gonna get killed by a crazy white supremacist — you know, they’re gonna show up to my house — or I was gonna kill myself. I was really preparing for death.”
New York Magazine reported that an organization Cullors founded was among those that received grants in 2020. BLM allocated $1.4 million to Reform LA Jails, New York Magazine reported. Reform LA Jails then gave $205,000 to a consulting firm owned by Cullors and her spouse, Janaya Khan, the magazine said.
Reform LA Jails also gave $270,000 to Christman Bowers, treasurer of the Black Lives Matter PAC; $211,000 to Asha Bandelle, a friend of Cullors who co-wrote her memoir; and another $86,000 to Trap Heals LLC, an entertainment, clothing and consulting company started by Damon Turner, the father of Cullors’ child, according to news reports.
It is unclear how many BLM chapters are linked to the California-based organization. However, some have complained about the lack of financial and active support they have received from the BLMGN.
Conservative watchdog group the National Legal and Policy Center said last week it plans to file a complaint against BLM.
“The National Legal and Policy Center will be filing a formal complaint with the Attorneys General of Washington and California to impose the maximum penalties on BLMGNF for their flagrant and repeated violations of the charity disclosure laws in those states, and it seems in many others,” the center’s legal counsel Paul Kamenar told the Washington Examiner.
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