Black Lives Matter Revealed Possible Future in its Handling of Tax Scandal

Wednesday’s release of an IRS form shed light on the national chapter of Black Lives Matter’s financials—but what was said may point toward healing

As the gradual unraveling of the financial improprieties of Black Lives Matter’s national chapter spooled out in full public view this week with the release of a long-delayed 2021 tax filing, a few damage controlling maneuvers showed how the nonprofit’s future may play out.

Ahead of the Wednesday release of their IRS Form 990, which shed light on the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation financials from July 2020 through June 2021, members of the nonprofit’s Board apologized, via a Zoom call attended by reporters, for the lack of transparency. As Sean Campbell reported in New York, one Board member said that filing (and therefore making public) the 990 would ultimately put an end to the “misinformation and disinformation” that has embroiled the organization over the past two years. 

After filing an extension on its 2020 return, BLMGNF missed the deadline toward the end of 2021 to hand over the completed 990. In this timeframe, a series of news stories revealed questionable, multi-million dollar real estate purchases in Los Angeles by Patrisse Cullors, one of the three individuals who founded BLM in 2012. 

With this week’s tax filing, it was revealed that the 38-year-old was actually the sole Board member and lone vote for the national chapter of the social and political movement—which, in addition to the national chapter, comprises several local chapters across the country and world.

The fiscal year covered by the IRS form says BLMGNF shows $77 million raked in and a spend of around $38 million. Of this money—which was mostly garnered through donations as the movement was reignited after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police—about $26 million in grants were bequeathed to activist groups, BLM local chapters, and other social justice organizations. About $42 million was remaining in the nonprofit’s coffers after this tumultuous fiscal period.

“That was a lot of white guilt money,” Cullers told the podcast Into America about a week before the financials went public; this was one of several headline-grabbing interviews for which she sat, likely to get ahead of the news cycle as much as she possibly could. “There’s a lot of white folks being like, ‘We just got to put the money.’”

The 990 confirms much of what was known—and has already sparked outrage within the growing movement for black lives at the local level—about this white guilt money: Cullors’s purchases of homes in swish L.A.neighborhoods, the revelations of wildly high six-figure salaries granted to Cullers’s brother for security, and a really-bad-look deal made with the father of one of her kids, Damon Turner. His was the fiscal period’s second-highest payout by the organization. It was also five times what was given by the BLMGNF to the Trayvon Martin Foundation, the namesake organization of the Florida boy whose murder inspired Cullers to organize. 

Some details in this week’s revenue reveal were fresh meat for the many hawks awaiting its public posting: The BLM movement and organization, now a household name, relied on over 49,000 volunteers but had only two employees. For the heavy lifts that come with being a non-profit that suddenly has a massive donation windfall, Cullers and other leadership went with outside consultants. Cullors, a bestselling author, did reimburse her former org the $73,523 she controversially spent on a 2021 charter flight for foundation-related travel. But she paid only $390 for use of the very controversial $6 million Studio City house—which the nonprofit later claimed was purchased for use by BLM creators. 

Yes, the bad optics of this operation are glaring and numerous: conflicts of interest, zero-bid contracts, nepotism, opportunism, and a tiny Board with huge power. Whether they’re forgivable transgressions is for each individual or group who feels damaged by them to decide. However, amid these highly questionable actions, one potential bright spot was seen in the 990 filing—a $32 million investment in stocks was made over that year to create a foundation fund designed to ensure that the BLM movement will continue for years to come. 

Despite what it reveals, this week’s tax filing is, ultimately, a bald-faced act of honesty. It may, as that Board member said in that Zoom meeting, clear up some misinformation around the nonprofit’s failings; coupled with an honest apology, the mending of some damaged relationships with local chapters and organizers may be a possibility. As the Board shifts the conversation toward the future, they may be on this track.  

“This 990 reveals that [the BLM foundation] is the largest Black abolitionist nonprofit organization that has ever existed in the nation’s history. What we’re doing has never been done before,” Board Secretary Shalomyah Bowers told the Associate Press this week. “We needed to get dollars out to grassroots organizations doing the work of abolition, doing the work that would shift the moral tide of this world towards one that does not have or believe in police, prisons, jails, or violence.”

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