National arm of Black Lives Matter spent millions on travel and consultants, records show

National arm of Black Lives Matter spent millions on travel and consultants, records show
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By Andrew Kerr

The national arm of Black Lives Matter spent millions on consultants, travel and compensation for its own staff between July 2017 and June 2019, according to audited financial statements prepared by its fiscal sponsor, Thousand Currents.

BLM Global Network spent $899,000 on travel, $1.6 million on consulting, and $2.1 million on personnel costs during its 2017, 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, the financial statements show, together comprising 83.3% of its total spending during the three year period. BLM Global Network granted $328,000 to outside organizations, which include local BLM chapters, during that same time frame, a figure that represents about 6% of its total spending.

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“The numbers you have for the prior years do not reflect, for example, the in kind support for chapters and fundraising directed to chapters and programmatic assistance to chapters, that would not show up as direct grants on the audited financials,” BLM Global Network Managing Director Kailee Scales told the DCNF on Tuesday. “That work was carried out by employees and consultants to BLM.”

But Scales did not answer when asked how much of its spending during that timeframe reflected the in-kind assistance she says BLM Global Network gave to its local BLM chapters versus the development of the various art projects the organization advertises as program areas on its website.

Additionally, Scales said her organization is not responsible for preparing the financial statements, noting that they were prepared by Thousand Currents, a California charity that has acted as a fiscal sponsor for BLM Global Network since 2016.

“The numbers you cite from the annual information return form [sic] our fiscal sponsor reflect IRS-required reporting categories that bear no relationship to how our programs have actually been run,” Scales said. “These are not numbers developed by BLM Global Network Foundation and we cannot speak to how they were calculated.”

Scales also said BLM Global Network has upped its grant-making activities substantially during its current fiscal year, granting “over $770,000” to outside organizations between the beginning of June 2019 and the end of April 2020. Financial statements for BLM’s current fiscal year are not yet available.

BLM Global Network announced on June 11 it was launching a $6.5 million fund to support its affiliated local chapters with grants of up to $500,000 after donations began flooding into the organizations following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

On Wednesday, BLM Global Network announced an additional $6 million grant fund to support black-led grassroots organization groups. The group told the Associated Press it has received more than 1.1 million donations since Floyd’s death. The average donation clocked in at $33, according to the AP.

A spokesperson for Thousand Currents, which was formerly called “IDEX,” confirmed in an email to the DCNF that it was approached by BLM Global Network in 2016 to create a fiscal sponsorship arrangement, which enables the activist group to use Thousand Currents’ charitable status to receive tax-deductible contributions.

“In this capacity, we provide administrative and back office support, including finance, accounting, grants management, insurance, human resources, legal and compliance,” the Thousand Currents spokesperson said.

Thousand Currents’ primary charitable activity is to support grassroots groups and movements in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, according to its website. The charity’s former executive director, Rajasvini Bhansali, told the Associated Press in 2016 that BLM Global Network agreed to make donations to Thousand Currents’ partners in Zimbabwe and South Africa in lieu of an administrative fee for its fiscal sponsorship services.

Thousand Currents did not respond to numerous inquiries seeking clarification on how much BLM Global Network has contributed to its overseas partners since its fiscal sponsorship began in 2016.

Scales, who did not respond to numerous requests for a phone interview with the DCNF, also did not respond when asked how much BLM Global Network has donated to its fiscal sponsor’s overseas partners.

Thousand Currents finance director Jenesha de Revera told that BLM Global Network’s activities are referred to as the “fiscal project” in its audited financial statements for fiscal years 20172018 and 2019.

Local BLM Chapters ‘Are the Ones Leading’

Multiple BLM founders have said its independent, autonomous chapters are the ones responsible for carrying out the movement’s mission.

“We have impacted the world; the Black Lives Matter Global Network, a crew of mostly young Black women and femmes challenging the culture to live up to our resilience. We evolved from a phrase, to hashtag, to a global network,” BLM co-founder Patrise Khan-Cullors wrote in a statement commemorating the group’s fifth anniversary in 2018. “This work is carried out by our chapters, whose leadership spans across the country and the world.”

Another BLM co-founder, Opal Tometi, told The New Yorker in early June that the affiliated BLM chapters “are the ones leading” the movement.

“It has always been somewhat decentralized,” Tometi said. “We have tried various structures, but we have always said the power goes on in the local chapter because they know what is going on, and they are the ones familiar with the terrain.”

“There are chapters across the country, many of them are operational and do their own fund-raising, and make their demands,” Tometi said, adding that the chapters have great leeway in deciding which issues to focus on.

“So different chapters might take on different issues, but there is this throughline of valuing black life and understanding that we are not a monolith but being radically inclusive in terms of chapter makeup,” Tometi said.

Former BLM Global Network communications strategist Shanelle Matthews explained in 2016 that the national group plays a supporting role for its affiliated chapters.

“Because we are decentralized, chapters are autonomous and develop their own strategies,” Matthews told PR Week. “They know what’s best for their communities. Anyone working outside a chapter is here to provide technical assistance and support.”

All of BLM Global Network’s affiliated chapters must establish their own legal entities prior to their initiation to the network, according to the organization’s website.

Former BLM activist Ashley Yates has publicly criticized BLM Global Network since as early as 2018 for what she says is a lack of transparency and has accused the organization of squandering money on excessive travel and compensation for its top staffers while giving little to its affiliated chapters.

Yates is described on a GoFundMe fundraising page established last year to support her work as having “[M]et with President Obama at the White House in November of 2014 after the officer who murdered Micheal Brown failed to be indicted by a grand jury” and that she “was among the protesters who made headlines by interrupting presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley at Netroots Nation in 2015.” Yates also profiled in a 2018 New York Times article about the depression and physical strains suffered by young black activists.

“I had concerns since the donations started rolling in from day one and I asked each of the co founders individually what happened to all the money several times,” Yates tweeted in January 2019. “Each time I got the run around, outright dismissed.”

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati announced in March 2018 it was changing its name because the national group had “perverted” the Black Lives Matter brand.

“BLMC has never been a chapter of that organization or a partisan of its politics because, even at the onset of us establishing our name as BLMC, we recognized that our idea of the type of movement necessary to win black liberation was at odds with that national body and it’s [sic] directive,” BLM Cincinnati wrote in its statement announcing it was changing its name to the Mass Action for Black Liberation.

“BLM did not create or build this new grassroots movement against police brutality and racism; they capitalized off a nameless groundswell of resistance sweeping the nation, branded it as their own, and profited from the deaths of Black men and women around the country without seriously engaging, as a national formation, in getting justice for fighting families,” BLM Cincinnati wrote.

“All the while raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from high-end speaking engagements and donations from foundations that support the Black struggle.”

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