Too Many Dollars, Not Enough Sense

AP Photo/Paul White

Lots of people start charity organizations for lots of good reasons. We have a non-profit tax structure in this country to encourage that very thing. There are many honest, hard-working people in the non-profit industry.

And there are a lot of grifters.

Grifters don’t always start off as grifters. Sometimes they start off as sad or angry or helpful people who want to change things for the better. A noble reason. But as the saying by famous philosopher P.Diddy goes: mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Black Lives Matter is the epitome of that phrase. Its roots are humble, borne out the frustrations surrounding the Ferguson riots, started by local community members who felt they had something to say. You may not agree with their reasoning (or you may completely agree) but their founding was organic. That didn’t last long. The summer of 2020 (Summer O’ BLM, as I like to call it) brought with it a tidal wave of funding for an organization largely founded and run by people with little experience in non-profit reporting, spending or finances. They were socialists, to boot. They never had a chance of figuring it out.

With almost no infrastructure and a leadership team that had never seen the type of money that flowed into the group in a matter of months (nearly $90 million in 2020 alone), BLM leaders were unable to resist the specter of sudden, seemingly unlimited cash flow. Not only was the group receiving a massive influx of donations, they were earning millions on their retail side with the licensing and sales of BLM merchandise.

That is a huge amount of wealth in a short amount of time. Few people would know how to handle that properly unless they had been prepared ahead of time. Patrisse Cullors and her BLM colleagues are no exception.

There’s no need to rehash all the issues. RedState has been reporting extensively on BLM’s financial woes, including Cullors’ luxurious real estate purchases in Los Angeles and Toronto and the group’s purchase of a $6 million dollar mansion in the coveted Los Angeles environ of Studio City. Cullors’ troubles also include a recent report that BLM paid her brother $840,000 for security services.

Not a great look, but not a surprise.

The root of all evil is the love of money. Many think that reference is for wealthy people…greedy people. It can apply to anyone. You can be poor and be obsessed with money the same way you can be rich and obsessed. The elevation of cash flow is what rots the spirit, not the amount of cash flow.

What happened to BLM is an amplified version of what happens to charity organizations all the time. People found out they could make a lot of money out of a protest movement and the dollars became bigger than their common sense.

It happened to the Tea Party movement, which was my point of entry into the political world. Many of the groups and individuals I started out with went on to become effective activists and commentators. However, many others went on to become permanent fund raising machines who are short on strategy and messaging and long on private jets and cocktail parties.

The same thing happened to Occupy Wall Street. Their movement was taken over by the socialist elite. The organization became a fundraising machine; the activists moved on to Antifa.

The same thing happened to #MeToo. Founder Tarana Burke started the organization after she suffered egregious sexual harassment at work, and intended it to be a support system for women trying to navigate the treacherous waters of corporate culture while trying to have their legitimate complaints of harassment heard and responded to. Then the Harvey Weinstein scandal came along and every woman in Hollywood rushed to be by Burke’s side for red carpet photo ops. Then they took over the movement and turned it into a publicity and money-making machine. Burke has since admitted she was worried that would happen and has expressed disgust at how Hollywood has ‘hijacked’ her genuine activism.

It happens to politicians all the time. Those with good intentions can quickly become overwhelmed by the oodles of cash flowing into politics and government. It can warp one’s view of right and wrong, and sever connections with the average Americans they purport to serve.

It happens to pastors. Look at former Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz. He was a young, good-looking man with a family and heart to serve his church, but he was unable to resist the unique temptations that came with personal fame, tax-free money and a position that put him next to some of the most famous entertainers in the world, including Justin Bieber (who has since severed all public ties with Lentz).

I’m not saying it’s impossible to run a financially successful charity group honestly. It can be done, but it takes a lot of very unsexy work, work that is done outside of limelight, without accolades and fancy dinners and luxury transportation. It involves accountability, constant education and training, good management skills, and good accounting skills.

The truth is, most of the people who begin activist movements are not the people who should be fundraising for those movements. Passion for the cause can be so easily twisted to become passion for the acknowledgment (and cash) the cause brings.

Cullors and her crowd could not protect themselves from the specter of more income than they could have ever dreamed of in their previously lower-income lives. They had passion, but no moral anchors that would have kept them rooted in reality. Their first move should have been to hire a team of accountants and managers to properly handle the tens of millions of dollars suddenly at their disposal. Instead, it was to buy mansions and flood their family members with lucrative contracts and purchases, all the while ignoring the hundreds of satellite BLM orgs waiting patiently for their promised funds.

BLM – and #MeToo and Carl Lentz and every other bad actor in the non-profit world – is what happens when you have too many dollars and not nearly enough sense.