- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Center has padded its already well-stocked coffers with at least $2.5 million in donations from celebrities and corporations following the white-nationalist melee in Charlottesville, Virginia.

George and Amal Clooney have donated $1 million to “combat hate groups,” while Apple CEO Tim Cook announced gifts of $1 million to the SPLC and $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League in response to the deadly Aug. 12 Charlottesville clash.

“We are proud to support the Southern Poverty Law Center in its efforts to prevent violent extremism in the United States,” said the Clooneys in a Monday statement. “What happened in Charlottesville, and what is happening in communities across our country, demands our collective engagement to stand up to hate.”

At the same time, others worry that Charlottesville has obscured legitimate concerns about the SPLC, which has been accused of juicing its fundraising by exaggerating the Ku Klux Klan threat.

“These celebrity donations are virtue-signaling. SPLC does not need the money,” said Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson in an email. “Its 2016 annual report shows over $300 million in endowment, with program spending (legal and educational) one-tenth that amount and more than covered by normal annual fundraising.”

Indeed, the $2.5 million comes as fairly small change for the SPLC, which reported revenue of $54 million in 2015 and spent 22 percent of its budget on fundraising, versus 64 percent on programs and services, according to Charity Navigator.

Top-ranked charities ideally spend at least 75 percent of their budgets on programs and services, as per CharityWatch, which last year downgraded the SPLC from a “C+” to an “F” for holding more than three years’ available assets in reserve.

“Unfortunately, these virtue-signaling donations reinforce SPLC’s bad habit of sensationalizing and politicizing ‘hate’ to generate even more money for its already bloated coffers,” said Mr. Jacobson, who runs the right-leaning Legal Insurrection blog.

The criticism has also come from the left. The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn referred in 2009 to SPLC’s Morris Dees as the “archsalesman of hatemongering, while Ken Silverstein of Harper’s said in 2010 that the organization “shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor.”

In the wake of Charlottesville, however, the SPLC and ADL, which has a focus on fighting anti-Semitism, have clearly become the go-to charities for prominent donors.

JPMorgan Chase said in a Monday memo that it would split a $1 million gift between the SPLC and ADL “to further their work in tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations.”

Apple has also launched a fundraising tool to allow donors to give to the SPLC through their digital iTunes accounts.

In accepting the Cloooney donation, SPLC president Richard Cohen warned that President Trump had reanimated the “radical right.”

“Like George and Amal Clooney, we were shocked by the size, ugliness, and ferocity of the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville,” Mr. Cohen said in a Monday statement. “It was a reflection of just how much Trump’s incendiary campaign and presidency has energized the radical right. We are deeply grateful to the Clooney Foundation for standing with us at this critical moment in our country’s fight against hate.”

The SPLC has also faced blowback for its liberal advocacy, starting with its “hate map,” which lumps mainstream conservative organizations with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

Both ABC and NBC repeated the “hate group” label in July in reference to the Alliance Defending Freedom, while CNN recentlyposted the SPLC “hate map” under the headline, “Here are all the active hate groups where you live.”

Among those on the map is the Liberty Counsel, led by Mat Staver, who denounced the Charlottesville white-supremacist violence and accused the SPLC of “exploiting a serious situation to push a self-centered political agenda.”

“This false labeling is defamatory and dangerous,” he said in a Monday statement.

Founded in 1971 to promote civil rights, the SPLC describes itself as the “premier U.S. nonprofit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.”

One woman was killed and 19 injured after an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer drove into a crowd in Charlottesville.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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