Calls for BLM transparency grow louder in Canada, U.S.

Pop Goes The News – Two Black activists said they left BLM Toronto (BLM-TO) after learning that BLM Canada paid $8.1 million for a building in the city using funds from the U.S.-based BLM Global Network Foundation, Inc.

“For BLM Canada to take money from BLM Global Network for a building without consulting the community was unethical,” wrote Sarah Jama and Sahra Soudi in an open letter they shared on social media last month.

The 10,000-square-foot mansion on Cecil St., near Spadina and College, was purchased last July and named the Wildseed Art and Activism Centre.

Despite BLM’s fortune, the City of Toronto agreed to contribute $250,000 in public funds “subject to Black Lives Matter Canada signing an Undertaking governing the use of the funds and the financial reporting requirements.”

The City also asked staff to determine whether the Wildseed Centre “meets the eligibility criteria to access the City’s Tax Rebate Program for Ethnocultural Centres” and to find “other opportunities to support the creation and sustainable operations of the Wildseed Centre.”

Jama and Soudi said they were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements “before we could be told anything about the organization’s finances or administration” and, when they attempted to raise their concerns, they were “met with denial, gaslighting, and a refusal to acknowledge requests for accountability.”

Black Lives Matter Canada is run by M4BJ, which was registered as a charitable organization in 2020 – the year George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis sparked an outpouring of donations.

Among its directors is Janaya Khan, co-founder of BLM-TO and the wife of BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

In financial documents it filed with the Canada Revenue Agency, M4BJ reported revenues of $8,187,536 between August 13, 2020 and April 30, 2021, including donations totalling nearly $2.4 million. It reported receiving $4,456,662 from “sources outside Canada.”

M4BJ reported spending $2,061,705 in the same period. This includes $394,198 in compensation for five part-time workers and five full-time employees, $165,199 in operating costs, $6,610 on fundraising and $14,566 in “professional and consulting fees.”

In addition to Khan, M4BJ directors are listed as Ravyn Wynz, Syrus M. Ware and Rodney Diverlus.

The chair and director of strategic planning is Sandra Hudson, who was sued by the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) in 2015 over allegedly bogus overtime payments of more than $277,000. In a settlement announced in October 2017, the UTSU said it could not prove fraud but noted that Hudson “voluntarily agreed to repay a portion of the overtime payments.”

Where Does The Money Go?

The BLM Global Network Foundation told The Associated Press it raked in more than $90 million U.S. in 2020, following Floyd’s murder. The organization – and Cullors in particular – have come under fire for a lack of transparency over where those funds have gone.

(BLM was not a registered charity when Floyd was killed. Donations were processed through Thousand Currents and the Tides Foundation, which took commissions of between nine and 15 percent.)

On Monday, BLM was ordered to stop “soliciting or disbursing charitable funds” in California until it delivers its 2020 tax return and other financial records.

California’s Department of Justice told the BLM Global Network Foundation, Inc. that it is “delinquent with The Registry of Charitable Trusts for failing to submit required annual report(s).”

The state’s attorney general is demanding copies of its Form 990 for the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31, 2020 within 60 days. “Failure to timely file require reports … may result in the suspension or revocation of your registration,” the letter warns.

The Department of Justice said BLM could have its tax exempt status revoked and be subjected to penalties.

California’s action against BLM comes only weeks after the state of Washington ordered the organization to “immediately cease” fundraising until it can provide proper accounting.

BLM’s charity registration is also reportedly out of compliance in New Jersey, Maine, North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland. (All but Virginia and Maryland are, like California and Washington, Democratic states.)

This week, Indiana attorney general Todd Rokita, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner his office has concerns about BLM. “It appears that the house of cards may be falling, and this happens eventually with nearly every scam, scheme, or illegal enterprise.

“I see patterns that scams kind of universally take: failure to provide board members, failure to provide even executive directors, failure to make your filings available. It all leads to suspicion.”

Cullors stepped down from BLM last May, shortly after reports of a real estate buying spree.

In early 2021, a corporate entity controlled by Cullors paid $1.4 million U.S. for a compound in Topanga Canyon, California and, in 2020, she and Khan purchased a $415,000 ranch house in Conyers, Georgia.

The couple’s real estate portfolio includes a $510,000 home in Inglewood, California and a $590,000 home in South Los Angeles.

According to The New York Post, Cullors and Khan were also spotted shopping for a luxury home in the Bahamas. (It is not known if they purchased it.)

Last April, Lisa Simpson – the mother of a victim of police violence – denounced Cullors during a press conference in Los Angeles. “Black lives don’t matter. Your pockets matter,” she said. “Y’all come into our lives and act like y’all got our back and y’all want to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but after we bury our children, we don’t see B, L or M, but y’all out here buying properties.”

Cullors told the Los Angeles Times she has other sources of income, including a book deal, a production deal, a college teaching job and paid speaking fees. BLM said in a statement to the Post that any suggestion Cullors used BLM funds to purchase real estate is “categorically false.”

Before Cullors stepped down, she appointed activists Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele to serve as senior directors of BLM – but, four months later, both said they never assumed the roles due to disagreements with the organization.

The calls for transparency from BLM have grown louder in the last year.

This week, New York magazine’s Intelligencer published a report titled “The BLM Mystery: Where did the money go?”

“The millions raised, coupled with confusion about how money is collected and spent, has created a rift among organizers,” it reads. “Many want better visibility into Black Lives Matter’s finances, even as they fear that right-wing groups will seize on even the appearance of mismanagement to discredit their work.”

It added: “Cullors and her network of contacts have a paltry record of disclosure, and they often attack the motives of those who criticize — or even question — them on financial matters.” 

Last June, 10 local BLM Chapters – including those in Chicago, New Jersey and San Diego – repeated their demand for accountability from BLM Global Network Foundation and Cullors.

“Here is something the public might not know: details about the BLM network (legal organization names, the total number of entities, how the entities relate to one another, who is in charge of each entity, what agreements or contracts those entities have made with other entities, etc.) were not offered to organizers of BLM chapters,” read its open letter. “The salaries, such as those of Patrisse Cullors, other founders, and staff have never been reported to Chapters.”

In 2020, an investigation by the Daily Caller revealed that BLM Global Network gave only $328,000 U.S. to its chapters and outside organizations between 2017 to 2019 but spent roughly $4.6 million on travel, personnel and consulting.

Intelligencer noted this week that “without much in the way of formal filings, gleaning information about BLMGNF’s finances requires piecing together information from a variety of sources. According to legal and governance experts, some of the patterns that emerge are cause for concern.”

For example, one of several organizations in which Cullors is involved is Dignity and Power Now, which raised $1.4 million U.S. for a 2019 ballot initiative called Reform LA Jails. According to Intelligencer, $211,000 was paid to Asha Bandele, who co-wrote Cullor’s memoir; $205,000 went to Janaya & Patrisse Consulting, a company Cullors owns with her wife; and about $86,000 went to Trap Heals LLC, an art collective run by Damon Turner, the father of Cullors’ 5-year-old child.

In 2020, BLM paid $150,000 to Trap Heals for an election day livestream.