Have you heard of Morris Dees? He created the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). His effective direct mail fund raising made it prosper initially. Spectacularly successful law suits against white supremacists led to the destruction of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation.
That was then. The fund raising continued more strongly, supplemented by support from Foundations. Perhaps supplemented by the winnings from law suits (though SPLC insists that those funds go to plaintiffs).
Some complain that the SPLC shifted too far. It identifies non-violent opponents, expands the definition of hate groups. Does it exaggerate how many hate groups there are and the danger they present? Missteps are an issue. A misidentification of someone as a member of a hate group led to a substantial payment.
Worse were accusations from employees. Mistreatment, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, even racism. These accusations led SPLC President, Richard Cohen, to fire 82 year old Morris Dees. Complaints of complicity by the leadership led Cohen to resign, and the director and assistant director of litigation.
Notwithstanding the disarray, the SPLC seems to be OK financially. It has an endowment of $470 million. Annual revenues approach $150 million – assisted by strong interest in opposing the hate groups stirred up by President Trump. =
The SPLC hired Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, to investigate the employee charges. The Board hired Karen Baynes-Dunning, a former juvenile court judge in Atlanta and member of the Board of Directors as Interim Director.
Will the SPLC right itself under her leadership? There are enough haters to keep the SPLC viable. A new director, even an interim one, can set a direction. Can a new director maintain the organization’s influence? Have the internal disputes and the criticisms done too much damage?