Last summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) quietly established a political-action arm, the SPLC Action Fund. That explicitly political arm allows the far-left smear group “greater flexibility to engage in legislative battles at every level of government and to support critical ballot initiatives,” according to the SPLC website.
The SPLC claims to be a non-partisan organization dedicated to fighting hate and extremism, but it maintains an inflated list of “hate groups” that lists mainstream conservative and Christian organizations alongside the Ku Klux Klan. It routinely slams “hate” in the Trump administration and encourages tech companies to blacklist organizations on its “hate map.”
Seemingly dissatisfied with the arguable defamation of its political enemies, the SPLC has decided to launch an explicitly political arm. This is a significant move, as it allows the ostensibly charitable group to engage in political attacks.
The SPLC is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. This means the group cannot engage in lobbying or political advocacy. Specifically, it must refrain from participating in “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” In exchange, donations to the organization are tax-deductible.
Baltimore attorney Glen Keith Allen filed a RICO and defamation lawsuit against the SPLC, demanding (among other things) that the IRS strip the organization of its tax-exempt status. Last month, the SPLC hired a high-powered lawyer to defend against this lawsuit. Between October 2015 and November 2016, the smear group slammed Republican (and only Republican) candidates for president. Yet in its 2017 Form 990, the SPLC claimed under penalties of perjury that it did not engage in political campaign activities.
According to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, the SPLC Action Fund has applied for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(4). This organization can engage in lobbying and political advocacy, allowing the SPLC to supercharge its already politically-slanted activities.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), which faced a terrorist attack in 2012 thanks to the SPLCs “hate map,” warned about the potential of the SPLC Action Fund.
“One of the biggest complaints about the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) over the years is how openly political the organization has been. The group that fancies itself as the ‘objective arbiter’ of hate is anything but,” Perkins wrote. “Morris Dees’s team at SPLC doesn’t want to just label hate – they want to regulate it. Thanks to the organization’s new political arm, the longtime radicals can put their money where their maps have been.”
Perkins also cited a Wall Street Journal article in which Jeryl Bier pointed out the anti-Republican slant of the SPLC’s election articles.
Although the SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and therefore statutorily prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, even a cursory review of its website belies its nonpartisan status. During the 2016 election, the SPLC posted “Margins to the Mainstream: Extremists Have Influenced the GOP 2016 Policy Platform” and “Here Are the Extremist Groups Planning to Attend the RNC in Cleveland.” The Democratic platform and convention received no such scrutiny.
An SPLC post titled “Electoral Extremism” ostensibly profiles “a dozen 2014 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and others.” Only a single Democrat is profiled, along with five Republicans and five third-party candidates. All of those listed are considered “right wing” or conservative, including the third-party ones. Even the Democrat on the list formerly belonged to the Constitution Party.
The SPLC Action Fund is only likely to supercharge the far-left smear group’s attacks on Republicans, conservatives, and Christians. As of yet, the 501(c)(4) has not contributed to any political campaigns, and its activities seem limited to publishing articles and statements on the SPLC website.
The SPLC Action Fund advocated against Florida prosecuting children as adults, but it also advocated for stricter laws on private and charter schools in Florida — in the name of safety. The group supported a law “to ensure that all Florida students can receive an education in school buildings that are structurally sound.” So, are Florida schools falling apart? Not quite.
Here’s the real issue: “Private schools supported by state funds – and some charter schools – do not have to meet the state building code requirements that public schools do,” the SPLC warned. “Many newly constructed public schools must be able to serve as public shelters during emergencies, such as hurricanes or other natural disasters. Private schools and some charter schools, however, do not have to meet this requirement.”
Rather than directly supporting Democrats, the Action Fund seems to have taken up a far more insidious strategy, with subtle attacks that claim to support safety but actually undermine school choice and other conservative causes.
The Action Fund opposed a Georgia bill to protect all monuments — since the bill would also protect Confederate monuments. The article slammed the bill as “divisive,” warned that it supports “the traitors of the Confederacy,” and smeared such monuments as “symbols of white supremacy.”
The SPLC trafficks in character assassination, guilt by association, and bald-faced lies that its political and ideological opponents are “hate groups.” Spokesmen for the organization have admitted that their goal is to “completely destroy these groups.”
The organization is facing multiple lawsuits and likely will face even more. Last year, it paid $3.375 million to Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, whom it defamed as an “anti-Islamic extremist.” The Christian non-profit D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) is also suing for defamation. The immigration group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is suing for wire fraud under RICO. Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is also suing for defamation. The Nawaz settlement has led roughly 60 organizations to consider legal action.
Organizations like DJKM, CIS, and Alliance Defending Freedom — a Christian law firm that has won nine Supreme Court cases in eight years — have been excluded from Amazon’s charity donation program, Amazon Smile.
While it may be smart for the SPLC to separate its de facto political campaigning from its “non-partisan” “charitable work,” it seems far more likely the far-left smear group will keep plugging away, demonizing those who disagree and launching insidious campaigns against its opponents in the name of fighting “hate groups.”
If anything, the SPLC Action Fund is likely to undermine the group’s credibility on its “hate group” labeling. If the SPLC is legally a partisan outfit as well as a “hate group” watchdog, that should cast aspersions on its extremely biased reporting.
Not only does the SPLC use the “hate group” smear to demonize and ostracize its political opponents, but its “hate map” unfairly stigmatizes America as a hateful country — at least three times more hateful than it actually is.
Conservatives, Christians, and liberals who wish to disagree with the far left’s increasingly stifling orthodoxy should remain vigilant against the SPLC and its new political arm.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.