SPLC - To make a Pile of Money

Morris Dees

The SPLC was founded in 1971 by Morris Dees, an Alabama attorney, with an allegedly questionable personal background.23,24 Since its founding, it has raised hundreds of millions of dollars "outing" individuals and organizations they claim to be right-wing hate groups.10


Morris Dees and I, from the first day of our partnership, shared one overriding purpose: to make a pile of money. We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich. During the eight years we worked together we never wavered in that resolve." - Millard Fuller, Dees' former business partner2,9


While the SPLC touts itself as a civil rights law firm, it allocates only a small proportion of its resources to actual legal work. In the year ended October 31, 2005, its IRS Form 990 declared that of its $28.9 million in expenses, only $4.5 million were spent on "providing legal services for victims of civil rights injustice and hate crimes," and that $837,907 was spent on "specific assistance to individuals" in the form of "litigation services". Yet during the same period, the SPLC paid Morris Dees salary and pension plan contributions that amounted to $297,559.5

[Referring to Morris Dees] 'You are a fraud and a con man,' Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which actually takes on dozens of death-penalty appeals for poor blacks every year, once told him. 'You spend so much, accomplish so little, and promote yourself so shamelessly.'"4


The entire SPLC legal staff resigned in protest in 1986, disgusted with Dees's refusal to address issues important to poor minorities - such as homelessness, voter registration and affirmative action - issues which appeared to be much less marketable to affluent benefactors than fighting the KKK. Several years later, attorney Gloria Browne resigned, stating to reporters that the SPLC's programs were designed to cash in on "black pain and white guilt."2

One particular lawsuit illustrates the calculated profiteering behavior of the SPLC: 

...Morris Dees... won a judgment for a black woman whose son was killed by Klansmen. She received $51,875 as settlement. Mr. Dees, according to an investigation by the Montgomery Advertiser, pulled in $9 million from fund-raising solicitation letters that featured a particularly gruesome photograph of the grieving mother's son. Mr. Dees, who pays himself an annual salary of $275,000, offered the grieving mother none of the $9 million her son's death made for him."4


As pointed out by one author, the SPLC indeed has struck gold by capitalizing on the perceived threat of racism in America:

No one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of such [hate] groups than the center's millionaire huckster Morris Dees, who in 1999 began a begging letter, 'Dear Friend, The danger presented by the Klan is greater now than at any time in the past ten years.'"12


Hate sells; poor people don't, which is why readers who go to the center's website will find only a handful of cases on such unlucrative causes as fair housing, worker safety or healthcare, many of those from the 1970s and '80s. Why the organization continues to keep 'Poverty' (or even 'Law') in its name can be ascribed only to nostalgia or a cynical understanding of the marketing possibilities in class guilt.12