Monday, April 8, 2019

Southern Poverty Law Center, Long Time Tax Exempt Public Interest Law Firm, Under Coordinated Attack


Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller, along with several other right leaning media outlets smell blood in the water in the wake of the leadership shake-up at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  SPLC is a tax-exempt law firm made famous by its lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan and its maintenance of a master list of groups SPLC considers purveyors of hate.  As detailed in several articles, such as this one, SPLC fired co-founder Morris Dees for unspecified workplace violations deemed contrary to the SPLC “values.”  Shortly after doing so, SPLC’s president resigned, as did its “longtime legal director.”  Several media outlets, associated with both sides of the political spectrum, have speculated that Dees’ misconduct involved “his behavior toward women and his comments regarding race.”  But its mostly those on the right who assert that SPLC is seeking to suppress speech by its labeling of certain associations as hate groups.  Some, like this plaintiff, argue that SPLC is engaging in defamatory behavior and are pressing the Internal Revenue Service to yank SPLC’s tax exempt status.  That effort may have received a boost when Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton sent a letter to the Service arguing that SPLC lacks a tax-exempt purpose but instead continues to “engage in systematic defamation.”

“The SPLC defames other organizations in several ways.  Each year, the SPLC publishes a so-called “hate map,” which ostensibly identifies hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam.  But under the guise of its “hate map,” the SPLC also lists its mainstream political opponents and faith-based groups, including reputable organizations such as the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Center for Immigration Studies. The SPLC also defames individuals.  It labeled the civil-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the British political activist Maajid Nawaz as “anti-Muslim extremists.”  Last June, the SPLC agreed to pay Nawaz – who is himself Muslim -- $3.375 million following a defamation lawsuit.

Senator Cotton’s letter goes on to accuse SPLC of allowing private inurement and “inexplicably” parking assets in offshore accounts.    

For longstanding guidance on tax exempt law firms, see Revenue Procedure 92-59

Darryll K. Jones

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