16 Aug 2012
BELOW IS AN EXCERPT OF A REPORT I WROTE ABOUT THE SPLC FOR THE CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES, WHERE I AM WORKING AFTER A LONG CAREER IN NEWSPAPER REPORTING. IT BEGINS WITH A REFERENCE TO AN INVESTIGATIVE SERIES BY THE SPLC'S HOMETOWN NEWSPAPER THAT EXPOSED THE HUCKSTERISM OF MORRIS DEES
The deceptions that the Montgomery Advertiser described have been a consistent part of the Southern Poverty Law Centerâ€™s strategy to build its reserve fund. It received $32,395,733 in contributions in 2008, an average of $88,755 per day. At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, during which its investments lost more than $48 million, the fund had $174,200,000.92
While Dees was raised a Southern Baptist, he suggested to some donors that he had a more diverse background. For example, in a 1985 fundraising pitch for funds to protect SPLC staff from threats of Klan violence, Dees made conspicuous use of his middle name â€” Seligman, which he received in honor of a family friend. A former SPLC attorney told The Progressive magazine that Dees signed letters with his middle name in mailings to zip codes that had many Jewish residents.93 The article was titled â€œHow Morris Dees Got Rich Fighting the Klan.â€� A former SPLC employee told the Montgomery Advertiser that the donor base was â€œanchored by wealthy Jewish contributors on the East and West coasts.â€�94
Attorney Tom Turnipseed, a former Dees associate, told Cox News Service, â€œMorris loves to raise money. Some of his gimmicks are just so transparent, but theyâ€™re good.â€�995
Turnipseed described a fundraising letter whose return envelope carried â€œabout six different stamps.â€� The purpose of the ruse was to present the appearance of an organization struggling to keep going. As Turnipseed noted: â€œIt was like they had to cobble them all together to come up with 35 cents.â€�
Writing in Harperâ€™s magazine in 2000, investigative reporter Ken Silverstein reported that the SPLC was â€œthe wealthiest civil rights group in America.â€� He also noted that Dees had broken a series of promises to end fundraising and live off its endowment once it had reached a threshold level.96
Wrote Silverstein: â€œMorris Dees doesnâ€™t need your financial support. The SPLC is already the wealthiest civil rights group in America â€¦ . The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the SPLC one of the worst ratings of any group it monitors.â€�
Silverstein noted that Deesâ€™ salary was tens of thousands of dollars more than the salary paid to directors of organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It amounted to a quarter of the annual budget of Atlantaâ€™s Southern Center for Human Rights, whose annual caseload included dozens of death-penalty cases.
Dees may believe his tactics are harmless embellishments, minor manipulations justified by his altruistic mission to challenge hate and â€œteach toleranceâ€� through a program that sends educational materials to schools across the country. He might apply the same rationalization to a deception cited by USA Today in 1996 as an example of his exaggeration of the threat of hate groups. The paper reported that â€œin a recent report on arsons at black churches in the South, his Klanwatch newsletter included five 1990 fires in Kentucky. But Klanwatch omitted a significant fact: the fires were set by a black man.â€�97
Taking Account of Morris Dees
A few journalists, mostly writing in liberal publications, have described a long history of hustling, hypocrisy, and hucksterism at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
â€œNo one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of [hate] groups than the millionaire huckster, Morris Dees,â€� wrote JoAnn Wypijewski of The Nation magazine in 2001.98
Ripping the SPLC as â€œpuffed up crusaders,â€� Wypijewski wrote: â€œHate sells; poor people donâ€™t, which is why readers who go to the SPLCâ€™s website will find only a handful of cases on such non-lucrative causes as fair housing, worker safety, or healthcare, many of those from the 1970s and 1980s. Why the organization continues to keep â€˜Povertyâ€™ (or even â€˜Lawâ€™) in its name can be ascribed only to nostalgia or a cynical understanding of the marketing possibilities in class guilt.â€�
In 2009, liberal journalist Alexander Cockburn called Dees the â€œarch-salesman of hate-mongering.â€� Under a headline that labeled Dees the â€œKing of the Hate Business,â€� he said Dees thrived by â€œselling the notion thereâ€™s a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, ready to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of â€˜Mein Kampfâ€™ tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other â€¦ . Ever since 1971, U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with his fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America.â€�99
Jesuit humanities professor Raymond A. Schroth, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, described Deesâ€™ manipulation this way: â€œHe focuses on a real problem and packages it to suit his purposes. If the problem is nuanced, complicated â€¦ he provides a prism, based partly on fear, through which we can view the issue: The Internet is out of control; hate groups are poisoning the World Wide Web. His Southern Poverty Law Center, with your help, will save you.â€�100