New York’s Attorney General Is Ordering The Black Lives Matter Foundation To Stop Operating Until It’s Transparent With Donations

Employees at hundreds of companies also raised money for the Black Lives Matter Foundation. Some 200 companies, including Apple, Google, and Nordstrom, raised $4 million for the Black Lives Matter Foundation between May 31 and June 5 using Benevity, a popular corporate fundraising platform.

Benevity founder Bryan de Lottinville told BuzzFeed News that over the past three years, Benevity had collected and sent about $80,000 in donations to the foundation. In the first week of June, Benevity froze $4 million in donations to Barnes’ nonprofit and has deactivated it from its platform.

Employees at the world’s largest companies and third-party giving platforms were not the only entities that confused the Black Lives Matter Foundation with the movement of the same name. Thousand Currents wrote on its 2017 and 2018 tax forms that it had sent a total of $90,130 over two years to the Black Lives Matter Foundation.

Solomé Lemma, Thousand Current’s executive director, disputed her organization’s own filings and attributed those designations to a paperwork error. She told BuzzFeed News that whoever prepared the paperwork confused the Black Lives Matter Foundation’s employment identification number with that of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. No funds were donated to Barnes’ foundation, she said, noting that the money was sent to local Black Lives Matters chapters for work in Black communities.

“We are working with our accountants on correcting this minor clerical issue,” Lemma said. “Black Lives Matter Global Network can confirm that the chapters received these funds.”

But when asked to confirm which chapters received the $90,130 designated to the Black Lives Matter Foundation over those two years, a spokesperson for the global network sent BuzzFeed News a list of grants to local chapters and other supported groups. None of the itemized grants, however, matched the $28,130 listed as having been given to the Black Lives Matter Foundation in 2017 or the $62,000 that was designated to the foundation in 2018.

A BuzzFeed News examination found that at least 18 charitable organizations, including the American Endowment Fund, Ford Foundation, and Network for Good, sent more than $360,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation since 2016.

Network for Good, a Maryland-based nonprofit and donor advising software platform, gave $100,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation in 2018 and more than $30,000 in 2019.

Despite the order, the Black Lives Matter Foundation was still listed on online donation platforms. Experts told BuzzFeed News that even when an organization receives a cease-and-desist order, it does not come with penalties and does not impact its standing with the IRS.

AmazonSmile, a site operated by the online e-commerce giant that donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charity of a customer’s choice, for example, continues to list the Black Lives Matter Foundation as a nonprofit option. Amazon did add a disclaimer to the foundation’s page noting that it was not affiliated with the racial justice movement after being contacted by BuzzFeed News.

A California state directive suggests the Black Lives Matter Foundation should not have been raising those funds in the first place, according to the California attorney general’s office. After multiple warnings in 2018, Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a cease-and-desist order last December to Barnes’ organization for failing to file annual financial reports required of tax-exempt foundations.

Once Network for Good discovered the California cease-and-desist order last year, it “immediately blocked the charity” to conduct its own investigation, Catherine Dunlop, Network for Good’s vice president of strategic partnerships, told BuzzFeed News.

A spokesperson for California’s attorney general told BuzzFeed News that a cease-and-desist prohibits an organization from operating or soliciting donations, and that the office is still looking into the matter. The office would not confirm whether it would be taking any further disciplinary actions.

“Donors who believe that they were misled should file a complaint with our office or directly request from the fundraiser or charity that their donation be redirected to another charity,” the attorney general’s spokesperson said. “Our office takes registration and reporting requirements for charities seriously.”

Eric Ward, a philanthropy expert and the executive director of the Western States Center, called the California attorney general’s lax response “disconcerting.”

“It is surprising that California’s Attorney General and Secretary of State has not pursued this more aggressively particularly because of all the reported red flags,” he told BuzzFeed News, adding that the circumstances would “usually trigger a pretty rapid response and an investigation.”

In its current legislative session, California lawmakers have proposed legislation aimed at protecting donors from misleading charitable organizations by requiring that charitable donation platforms like Benevity and GoFundMe vet groups before including them on their sites.

“There is a gap here that is occurring in administrative oversight with charities and those loopholes need to be closed and should be closed immediately,” Ward said. He noted that if states don’t adapt their laws to match this current era of giving, “we will see this happen more and more.”

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