SPLC: Morris Dees' Award-Winning Cash Machine

By Wayne Lutton
Volume 28, Number 3 (Spring 2018)
Issue theme: "The SPLC File - An Exclusive Report on the Southern Poverty Law Center"

On July 2, 1998, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) announced that they were inducting Morris Dees into their Hall of Fame. Over the years, Dees’ Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has raised hundreds of millions of dollars. The group’s latest published Annual Report (for 2016) confirms that Dees well deserved the DMA’s recognition. The SPLC disclosed that they brought in $50,688,012 and accumulated a massive Endowment Fund of $319,283,961. Over $20 million of their budget goes for salaries and employee benefits (as shown in SPLC’s IRS form 990 for 2015). President and CEO Richard Cohen received a base pay of $355,140, plus $47,650 in “other compensation,” while co-founder and Chief Trial Counsel, 82-year-old Morris Dees, received $359,592 in reportable compensation and $46,679 in “other compensation.”

A close examination of the SPLC’s financial records reveals that as of 2016, the organization had over $69 million of its Endowment Fund parked in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda. This prompted Amy Sterling Casil, CEO of Pacific Human Capital, a nonprofit consulting firm, to exclaim that, “It is unethical for any U.S.-based nonprofit to put money in overseas, unregulated bank accounts.” [ Washington Free Beacon, August 2017,

When SPLC president Richard Cohen appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security on November 30, 2017, he said, “the White Supremacist Movement…has been energized by President Trump.” Cohen was challenged by Committee members about the SPLC’s finances and methods. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) asked Cohen, “Since the SPLC is not subject to taxation, why would there be a need for the SPLC to have offshore accounts reported up to $69 million in areas like the Cayman Islands…. What would be the legitimate reason that the SPLC would have millions and millions of dollars in offshore accounts?” Replied Cohen, “I think there’s been some confusion in the press about this…. It avoids a lot of certain kinds of filings and it avoids unrelated business income tax.” 

About the author

Wayne Lutton, Ph.D. is editor of The Social Contract.