Southern Poverty Law Center Controversy

Civil Rights Practice Group Teleforum

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The Southern Poverty Law Center (501(c)(3)) and SPLC Action Fund (reportedly processing 501(c)(4) application) potentially comprise America’s most powerful and well-resourced public interest and advocacy operation. SPLC describes its mission as “fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.” SPLC distributes materials for public school educators that emphasize “anti-bias and social justice.” But a current op-ed in USA Today claims, to the contrary, that the SPLC operates to selectively target groups based upon agendized hate-naming and public shaming. SPLC has singled out 1020 “hate” groups and this labeling has been relied upon by government bodies, social media platforms, and non-governmental groups to act based upon ostensibly constitutionally protected expressive rights, rights of conscience, and association practices. Robert Muise, a presenter for this teleforum, is suing the Michigan Attorney General and Department of Civil Rights for utilizing SPLC characterizations to oversee activities of identified groups, including the one he co-founded, American Freedom Law Center.

Featuring: 

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel, sued Guidestar for branding LC an anti-LGBTQ hate group based upon SPLC designation; lost appeal in 4th Circuit based on Lanham Act analysis.
 
Robert Muise, American Freedom Law Center, currently suing State of Michigan attorney general office for establishing hate unit to target SPLC-named groups, including AFLC
 
Muhammud Rahim, Quilliam, settled with SPLC for 3.4M after threatened defamation suit for falsely naming Maajid Nawaz (reformist Muslim) a hater.
 
Justin Danhof, National Center for Public Policy Research, responding to SPLC in the corporate context
 
Moderator: Jeremy Tedesco, Alliance Defending Freedom, attorney on the Masterpiece Cakeshop litigation team -- and many other freedom of conscience matters. 

Event Transcript

Operator:  Welcome to The Federalist Society's Practice Group Podcast. The following podcast, hosted by The Federalist Society's Civil Rights Practice Group, was recorded on Thursday, August 22, 2019, during a live teleforum conference call held exclusively for Federalist Society members.       

 

Micah Wallen:  Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is on the "Southern Poverty Law Center Controversy." My name is Micah Wallen, and I am the Assistant Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society.

 

      As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.

 

      Today, we are fortunate to have with us our Moderator Jeremy Tedesco, who is a Senior Legal Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom. Jeremy will be introducing our panel today. After our speakers give their opening remarks, we will then go to audience Q&A. Thank you all for sharing with us today. Jeremy, the floor is yours.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Well, thanks very much, Micah, and good afternoon to everyone. Thanks for joining this teleforum. And a special thank you to our panelists: Mat Staver, Robert Muise, and Justin Danhof. Unfortunately, Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim had a late breaking emergency arise that forced him to ultimately miss the call. I do wish you could've heard from him. I've participated on SPLC panels with him in very recent history, and his story is one you need to hear. I'll try my best to pass along some of the high points in his absence.

 

      Because I don't want to ultimately cut in to the valuable speaking time of our panelists, I'll direct you to The Federalist Society website for their bios. I wanted to begin with a few opening remarks, then turn it over to our panelists for their presentations, and then I'll ultimately hand it back over to Micah to moderate our Q&A time.

 

      Our topic, of course, is the Southern Poverty Law Center. Like several of the participants on this call, SPLC has placed my law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, on its hate map alongside a host of despicable criminals, gangsters, and racists, and this is frankly preposterous.

 

My firm has represented parties in nine victories at the Supreme Court since 2011. Empirical SCOTUS has ranked us first among top performing law firms litigating First Amendment cases in its report called, "Supreme Court All-Stars 2013-2017." And the reality is our work protects the free speech and free exercise rights of every American. Yet, we're sitting on the same list with the KKK and the American Nazi Party.

 

      And while I'd be happy to talk to you about the experience of mainstream groups being placed on the SPLC's hate and extremists lists and how we're fighting back, we do have plenty of panelists here that can speak to those issues. Instead, I wanted to open with a little bit of information just underscoring the massive credibility crisis SPLC currently faces.

 

      Now, at the outset, I want you to understand that journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum have been criticizing SPLC as a direct mail scam and a partisan progressive hit operation for decades. But recent events have driven home SPLC's lack of credibility and elevated this credibility crisis to a national conversation.

 

      If you didn't know, earlier this year two dozen SPLC employees signed a letter to SPLC's board that said, "Allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it." This led of course to a flood of stories confirming the internal corruption within SPLC, with even liberal outlets like CNN reporting that SPLC suffers from a "systemic culture of racism and sexism."

 

      Shortly after these stories broke, as I'm sure many of you know, SPLC fired its co-founder Morris Dees. Its long-time president, Richard Cohen, resigned along with their long-time legal director. Now this led to many scathing critiques of SPLC's cynical fundraising methods as well. The most damaging surely came from a liberal journalist Nathan Jay Robinson in Current Affairs, who is very sympathetic to the SPLC's mission but nonetheless wrote an article titled, tellingly, "The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Everything That's Wrong With Liberalism."

 

      In that article, he wrote that the SPLC's hate map is an outright fraud in a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC. He was simply observing what many have said throughout the years and one of their own employees said in an article that came out just before this, that the hate map and their whole program is just a profitable scam.

 

      Now it's important to remember, too, that the SPLC has frequently been forced to retract extremist labels. It did this when it recklessly labeled Dr. Ben Carson, our current HUD secretary, an extremist simply because of his Orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage. Just last year, SPLC apologized and paid Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam Foundation, the foundation that Dr. Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director of here in America, paid him a $3.375 million settlement and issued a public apology for including him on its field guide to anti-Muslim extremists.

 

      As part of that, they also took down and retracted the entire field guide. And if Muhammad were here, he would tell you about his experience meeting with SPLC after the settlement and talked to them about why were we on this list and what were you thinking of even putting us on this list? We're a force for good in society. And what they learned was when they asked Richard Cohen about this, Richard Cohen said he had never even read the report on Quillium and Maajid Nawaz. He was not aware of any of the information or even the reasons why they were placed on the extremists list.

 

      There's also very compelling information that was shared with Dr. Fraser-Rahim that third parties asked the SPLC to put Quillium on the list, showing again that this is more of a hit operation than it is any kind of an objective assessment of threats in our society.

 

And the other thing that you need to know about Quillium's experience is it was devastating for them to be put on this list. They were very close to getting government grants and private grants, and when this came out and they were on this extremists list, they lost millions of dollars in potential grants.

 

And Muhammad told me just a few days ago that it's two and half years later since they initially ended up on the list and they feel like they're just getting to the point where they can start back up where they were intending to start up two and half years ago, when it came to building and developing their infrastructure and programs here in the United States. So there's a huge negative impact on Quillium for being put on the list.

 

Well, with that stage set, I want to get out of the way and allow our esteemed panel to take over, and I'll first turn it over to Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. Mat?

 

Mat Staver:  Thank you, good to be with you.

 

Like ADF and a number of others, Family Research Council and many others, Liberty Counsel also has been put on this hate list by the SPLC with a hate map. And as a consequence of that, we've had to do two different categories of response. One, we've had to take security measures because when you find out in the past what happened to Family Research Council in August of 2012, it's because of the hate map on the SPLC that Floyd Corkins, Jr. went to the SPLC hate map and he intended to commit mass murder, and his first target was the Family Research Council.

 

He had on his possession a list of a couple of other organizations that were on the hate map as well in Washington D.C. And his intent was not only to kill people at FRC but also to go to two maybe three other organizations and do the same. He took Chik-Fil-A sandwiches, as you know, into FRC's office and fortunately, the security guard was able to overcome him. But he ultimately confessed to law enforcement authorities that he was motivated by and found the Family Research Council because of the SPLC hate map.

 

So we consequently have taken a lot of personal security measures at Liberty Counsel, as well as corporate measures, as well as training for active shooter responses, and we've done that because we have had a number of death threats. I can't say all of them have come from the SPLC, but certainly some of them have been motivated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

Also, the other thing that we've had to do is we've had to deal with the economic consequences of the SPLC. The SPLC has coordinated with a number of organizations, Google, YouTube, and many others, that ultimately are trying to stop the electronic communications whether it's in banking, credit cards, online searches, Facebook, Twitter, all of those, to literally shut you down. While we have not had our landing page, credit card system shut down, and it's because we haven't used certain organizations that have been bending to the SPLC, a number of organizations that we've represented have had their landing pages shut down.

 

I have a communication from Discover/Diners Club to an individual who I know who runs a landing page transaction program demanding that his company shut down a pro-family organization that I know quite well in Michigan. In other words, that if you have a Discover/Diners credit card and you as the individual as the cardholder want to make a contribution to that particular nonprofit, Discover/Diners Club will not honor your own individual transaction from your own credit card account because the transaction is going toward a purchase or to a contribution of an organization that's on the hate list.

 

I know next year, as we come to the spring of next year, we have received an email communication, others have as well, from Microsoft that we no longer will be considered a nonprofit organization, not because we don't meet all of their five criteria. We do, but they have indicated that we are on a watch list. That watch list is no doubt the SPLC.

 

We also have been placed on, or a number of organizations, 46 organizations, on the GuideStar website. The GuideStar website is sort of a clearing house if you will, or they proport to be. They've become very liberal, politically active based on their president of several years ago who has joined GuideStar. And GuideStar coordinated with the SPLC and on the Liberty Counsel page, and also on 45 other organization pages, they put the SPLC logo on the very top and said that this organization has been designated as a hate group.

 

A demand letter was sent to GuideStar. They eventually pulled it off. However, within their own database, they have labeled—and all they have to do is click another button and put that label back on, but they have actually in their online code, they have labeled these different organizations with certain coding that I won't go into. But they have embedded it in their coding, all they have to do is switch it back on.

 

We filed a federal lawsuit against GuideStar raising the Lanham Act. Our idea was to go after organizations first that relied upon the false SPLC label and then perhaps go after the SPLC directly at some point in time. So we filed suit against the GuideStar under the Lanham Act. The Lanham Act deals with commercial speech of a competitor that ultimately is designed to hurt the competitor's economic status.

 

So GuideStar is in the nonprofit world. GuideStar engaged in commercial speech because on the same page, they also solicited additional levels of GuideStar -- different categories that you can pay additional fees to join.  That particular suit went to the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit ultimately found that it was not something actionable under the Lanham Act. That was one of the first lawsuits filed. We did not file a petition for right of cert on that. But GuideStar has backed down, at least for now, in its labeling.

 

There's other suits that have come up as well. One of those is the D. James Kennedy or Coral Ridge Ministries lawsuit that has been filed in Alabama. It is before a judge who on a previous unrelated case some years ago had a Southern Poverty Law Center case in his courtroom and ultimately ordered the State of Alabama to use the Southern Poverty Law Center's criminal or juvenile guidelines and implement those in Alabama.

 

So it's not necessarily the most favorable or perhaps even the most objective court to be in, but they filed the lawsuit against the SPLC and against AmazonSmile, which every one of these organizations including Liberty Counsel, I know ADF as well, is also excluded from the AmazonSmile program where individuals can purchase things on the AmazonSmile program and a certain portion of their purchase can go to that nonprofit of their choice.

 

The lawsuit is against the AmazonSmile Foundation and also the Southern Poverty Law Center. Currently, the original lawsuit was dismissed with the opportunity to file an amended complaint. They did file an amended complaint. They have raised various issues such as the Lanham Act. They've also raised religious discrimination. They've raised Title II with regard to AmazonSmile as a place of public accommodation. The magistrate has had this issue referred for consideration and a report. Report and recommendation has been issued, but the judge has not acted on it.

 

The report and recommendation recommends that the lawsuit against AmazonSmile and the SPLC be dismissed on all counts. And, of course, the district judge that's been objected to to the district judge, and that is now pending before the district judge.

 

The Center for Immigration Studies has also found a lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center. At this point in time, they have moved the SPLC to dismiss the complaint. The briefing is complete, but the court has not taken any action and the motion is still pending.

 

Prager University filed a lawsuit primarily using in part federal law and then some California law, but most of it was federal law in the initial complaint. The initial complaint alleged that YouTube was a place of public accommodation, so it was attempting essentially to break new ground. The original lawsuit was dismissed on that in that there's no cause of action to consider YouTube a place of public accommodation, and YouTube, of course, is owned by Google and it is continuing to censor Prager University's videos. And also there's been demonetization of Prager U and others that are on these hate lists.

 

They filed an amended complaint and that amended complaint is still pending. But, again, it's seeking to pursue new ground. One of the problems that we have -- and I have about 12 different categories of potential causes of action. I've mentioned one, The Lanham Act. I've mentioned another one, not one that we use, but that's the place of public accommodation. That has not been successful any place, and I think it would be a hard one to pursue.

 

The others, and I won't go through all of them, but I'll just mention, though, a couple of others and then talk about something with regards to the Communications Decency Act that needs to be addressed, and then I'll move onto the next panelist. But obviously, there's the defamation and libel. That is also one of the claims that the D. James Kennedy Coral Ridge Ministries raise specifically against the SPLC.

 

The report and recommendation, not surprisingly, responds by saying that the Coral Ridge Ministries is a public figure. You have to raise to a level of animus, and then there's also the difference between something being stated as an opinion. Is it their opinion that you're a hate group or are they stating it as fact that you're a hate group? I think certainly they have animus but that opinion versus fact is a major issue.

 

So there's the defamation cases that you could potentially consider, but, again, you have the higher bar. Whether or not the Supreme Court will change that is a possibility based upon some comments and some information that's come out of the U.S. Supreme Court in the last year, and basically erase that public figure category in which you have to have a higher category of standard of proof, we don't know, but for now, it's still there.

 

The other is the false light invasion of privacy that some states have. It also is a libel, but it provides additional actions or actionable causes, if you will, in those states in which these states have adopted the false light invasion of privacy. That may be an option. We have talked with a number of groups, there's about 90 groups that are talking. We've talked to a number of groups about considering multiple actions in multiple states raising multiple different categories or causes of action.

 

One of the problems outside of the SPLC when you go to the entities that are in coordination with the SPLC, and I think they clearly are in a coordinated effort working with the SPLC to shut down any organizations that are on the SPLC hate list, is for those organizations such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, they have protection from liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

 

And originally, it's understandable why they have that protection. They had the protection in part because there was complaints regarding the sharing of music and whether or not that was copyrighted even though they didn't put the music on, but some other user put the music on there and the arguments were we shouldn't be liable. That's not us, we're just a neutral provider.

 

And the arguments originally were with the internet coming of age and these infantile, if you were, at the time, internet organizations needing protection so they could grow and flourish, they shouldn't be held liable when someone puts a particular statement on their communication vehicle because it's not their statement. They're just a neutral provider, kind of like a telephone. You can't hold a telephone company liable because somebody concocted a crime using the telephone. It's the individual person.

 

So as a result of that, Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act gives these organizations liability protection. Problem is is that the reason why they got it is because they were a neutral provider of information, so therefore they shouldn't be held liable for the speech or actions of a third party. But now, they're no longer a neutral provider of communication. In fact, they are taking sides and they are censoring communication.

 

So unless and until Section 230 is amended, these other organizations will continue to raise -- the social media internet organizations will continue to raise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a defense, and right now it is a very strong defense for them. So from a legislative standpoint, in order to get to these organizations with some actionable litigation, the Communications Decency Act Section 230 needs to be amended.

 

With that, I'll pass it on to the next panelist participant.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  This is Jeremy again. Robert Muise, Co-Founder and Senior Counsel of American Freedom Law Center, is our next presenter. Robert, take it away.

 

Robert Muise:  Thank you. Thank you for inviting me, and like others that were mentioned on this call, the American Freedom Law Center is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate list. Similarly, you cannot donate to us through AmazonSmile because of our listing on that hate list.

 

      Want to talk to you today is about a lawsuit that we have which is pending, it's ongoing. It's the American Freedom Law Center v. Dana Nessel, who is the Michigan Attorney General, we sued her in her official capacity, and against Agustin V. Arbulu, who is the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, whom we sued in his official capacity. And this is the first time that I'm aware of -- certainly you've heard how a lot of private companies, private organizations are relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center, media organizations relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center to develop their own corporate private policies and so forth.

 

      Well, the Michigan Attorney General and the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, as government officials, are now officially relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center to develop its policies in the state, which we believe are unconstitutional. And it's one thing when you have a private entity, like the Southern Poverty Law Center and other private entities, doing the nefarious things they are doing that Mat described quite well. And now when you have government officials who are joining in, we now have constitutional protections that are triggered.

 

      So more specifically, on February 22 of this year, the Michigan Attorney General and the Director of Michigan Department of Civil Rights, they issued a joint press release in response to the Southern Poverty Law Center's latest rendition of their so-called Intelligence Report and hate map. The press release included hyperlinks right to both of these documents. The Michigan Attorney General and the Director of Civil Rights in their press release identified that there are 31 hate groups that are currently operating in Michigan. And, again, when you clicked on the hyperlink to the hate map of Michigan revealing the 31 groups, at the top of the list is the American Freedom Law Center.

 

So a little bit of background, our Attorney General, Dana Nessel, she is quite frankly a hardcore left-wing progressive ideolog. She champions so-called LGBTQ causes. She created, in this context and part of this press release was announcing this, she created as a special unit in the Michigan Attorney General's Office the Hate Crimes Unit. The Attorney General has pledged that her newly created Hate Crimes Unit would investigate all credible tips of hate crimes and hate organizations. And she has publicly and expressly stated that she considered the Southern Poverty Law Center to be a credible source for identifying groups for her office to investigate. And, of course, the American Freedom Law Center is on the top of that list.

 

      The Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights also announced the creation of a statewide database of hate incidents. And the example -- again, relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the example he actually provided—this is in his public press release—of the type of information that the government would be collecting and sharing with others included a patriot group who was distributing flyers on the public sidewalk in Lansing, Michigan, the capital of Michigan, during President's Day. The flyers urged citizens to contact ICE if they have information regarding any illegal immigrants living in the community. Plainly, this activity by this patriot's group is fully protected by the First Amendment. Yet, it is considered a hate incident by the Michigan Attorney General and the Director of the Civil Rights Department, and if you engage in such activity, you will find yourself in a database, potentially subject to investigation by the new Hate Crimes Unit.

 

      Now, the chilling effect of these actions, again, which rely specifically on the Southern Poverty Law Center, is quite evident and the reputational harm is quite evident. Indeed, who wants to associate with or donate to a state-recognized hate group? One that is likely criminal since it's been identified by the state's top law enforcement officer as a target for her Hate Crimes Unit.

 

      So indeed, which we have here in Michigan, is the Attorney General weaponizing her office to publicly promote and thus give the government imprimatur to and endorsement of a false political narrative that's been advanced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A narrative that is no doubt intended to, and has in fact, harmed organizations like the American Freedom Law Center, the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, ADF, and so forth.

 

      And so from our perspective, obviously the Attorney General's objective is patent and it's unlawful. Not surprising, the defendants filed motions to dismiss on Rule 12b-1 and 12b-6 grounds, that's they claim that we lack standing and that we fail to state a claim. What's interesting, in the introduction to her brief, Dana Nessel, the Attorney General, stated that the American Freedom Law Center, and this is a quote, "essentially alleges that it has been so successful in defending and protecting hate speech and it must bear the burden of being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center."

 

      And I highlight this because it's quite telling. What precisely does the Michigan Attorney General mean when she describes our speech as hate speech? Anyone who does any modicum of First Amendment litigation knows there's no such category of hate speech under the First Amendment. But of course, the question's rhetorical because the goal of these government officials and the Southern Poverty law Center is obvious. You falsely label your political opponent's speech as hate speech to marginalize their message in an effort to ultimately ban their ideas from public discourse.

 

      Now, the pernicious effect is quite clear. Just recently, and this is in light of this announcement of the Hate Crimes Unit, of the creation of this database, a leader in Dana Nessel's party, she's a Democrat, State Representative Yousef Rabhi, again he's a Democrat from Michigan, and this is a direct quote from a news story who interviewed this state representative. "Told the Daily that he personally is involved in crafting civil rights legislation that would fight hate speech as well as the hate organizations themselves. Rabhi is worried, however, that some representatives are protecting hate speech by filing it under free speech. Some of the negative legislation coming up, it generally is under the guise of free speech, Rabhi said. So oftentimes people who are wanting to support and defend these organizations, like the American Freedom Law Center and others, are doing it with the guise of free speech and saying that universities and other organizations denying the opportunity for hate speech to occur is a violation of free speech." The AG's policy, the Southern Poverty Law Center, they are fueling such efforts. There's no question about it.

 

      Now the crux of the problem is that the Michigan Attorney General, a government official who is the state's top law enforcement officer, has through her policy directive expressly and certainly by reasonable inference publicly designated the American Freedom Law Center as an unlawful hate group expressly relying upon the Southern Poverty Law Center. Not once does she reject SPLC's vicious and false attacks on us, rather she embraces the Southern Poverty Law Center. She embraces its agenda. She embraces its false designations, and she is expressly relying upon them to develop her Hate Crimes Unit policies.

 

      In her brief when she filed in support of the motion really confirmed in spades that they fully accept -- the government fully accepts the Southern Poverty Law Center's designation of the American Freedom Law Center as a hate group. They consider the designation to be credible. And they've confirmed that they're going to investigate all credible tips. And as I stated previously, and as we've mentioned in our complaint, it's one thing for a private organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center to express its falsehoods about political opponents, but when you have the Michigan Attorney General and the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights joining, officially endorsing this partisan attack, lending government resources and thus becoming, really, the government enforcement agency for Southern Poverty Law Center's agenda to protections of the U.S. Constitution [inaudible 29:12].

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  This is Jeremy. I'm going to have to move us on to Justin. We are at the bottom of the hour, and I was really hoping to get all of our excellent panelists presentations done by the bottom of the hour, so if you could just close it up real quick and then we'll move to Justin and then we'll get a Q&A from the participants.

 

Robert Muise:  Good, I appreciate, and I'm sure the listeners appreciate you moving this along. Let me just finish up with this.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Sure.

 

Robert Muise:  As soon as we filed this lawsuit, the Detroit News actually ran a pretty biased objective -- I'm sorry unbiased but objective story on this, and Dana Nessel posted this on her official Facebook page. "Only in Trump's America do you get sued for pledging to prosecute hate crimes and pursue organizations that engage in illegal conduct against minority communities. I'll never back down on my commitment to protect the safety of all Michiganders. Bring it."

 

      This is not a statement of an objective, clear-minded government official who is a top law enforcement officer, disavowing an intention to abuse government power and misuse government resources. In fact, it's just the opposite.

 

      Again, our lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. Thank you.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Thanks very much, Robert. That's all very, very interesting information. We'll watch that lawsuit closely as well.

 

      I want to move on to our final presenter now, Justin Danhof who is General Counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research. Justin, the floor is yours.

 

Justin Danhof:  Thanks, Jeremy. Thank you to you and thank you to ADF and The Federalist Society. This is really an important topic, and it's a growing topic.

 

      So at the National Center, for those who aren't familiar with my program, I direct something called the Free Enterprise Project. Just a little bit of background, we are essentially the conservative movement shareholder activists. So over the last decade, I've filed nearly 200 shareholder resolutions, attended about the same number of shareholder meetings, and have over 100 meetings annually with corporate C-suites on a wide array of issues.

 

      And the left, though, to just put it on a radar, in an average year I file about 20 resolutions. Liberal groups file between four and five hundred resolutions every year to engage with corporate America. And the reason that I think corporate America is such an important part of the Southern Poverty Law Center's story is that it's actually -- their influence over corporate America is growing. It's not shrinking, even in the face of the crisis that SPLC has brought upon itself with its own racist and sexist leaders being ousted, right?

 

      But the reason that the left engages corporations so often in this process is that corporations are much more amenable to pressure than most politicians. Most politicians live in gerrymandered districts, right? Corporations can move more quickly than the political legislative or legal process to effect change, and corporations can also have an immediate economic impact on a targeted region or, in this case, a targeted organization, right?

 

So ADF is not eligible for AmazonSmile. So what does that mean? That's a lot of money. That's one less victory for Jack Phillips if ADF doesn't have the fund to bring on the cases, meaning it's one less victory for freedom of religion for all of us and freedom of speech. It's not just Amazon, and some of the other panelists have listed off a few other companies, but Facebook relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center. YouTube relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center. Spotify relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

And, again, what is it about? It's about diminishing speech and diminishing funds from groups that the SPLC opposes. That's their whole ballgame, because if you can silence speech and use corporate America to do it, well then you don't need to change the law to change the culture, right? And that's another big point that I'd like to drive home. Remember that. You don't need to change a law to change a culture.

 

If a group of corporations is going to take an action for you, not under pressure from a government or a regulatory agency or anything of the like, if you can just get them to perform your policy preference for you, you don't need to change a law to change a culture. And inside the belly of the beast, dealing with all of these corporations from the conservative perspective, it's given me a really eye-opening experience into how the left engages with this.

 

And one thing that I've seen recently is an uptake in shareholder resolutions that are designed for companies to squash out more hate speech. So Mat had mentioned the Diners Club card. Well, at the shareholder meeting for MasterCard this year, there was a shareholder resolution demanding that MasterCard no longer process for any payments for quote-on-quote "hate," to hate groups or hate speech. And this is, again, right out of the Southern Poverty Law Center's playbook.

 

Amazon shareholder meeting this year, there was a shareholder resolution essentially demanding—and this was from a foundation by the way. The Nathan Cummings Foundation filed this resolution—demanding that Amazon essentially digitally burn hate books, and it's whatever the Nathan Cummings Foundation defines as hate. And these are growing trends, they're not shrinking trends.

 

We already mentioned Microsoft. Microsoft is no longer going to give nonprofit discounts to eligible 501(c)(3)s if they're on the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate list. PayPal, if you're on the hate list, PayPal has decided that you can't process payments via PayPal as well. So your donors can't give to you in that way.

 

So I say this all to point out that it's a growing not a shrinking concern, but there is work that we can do in this arena. Following everything that happened in Charlottesville, the SPLC's coffers got quite full. There was a lot of celebrities in Hollywood gave a lot of money to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but so did Apple and so did JP Morgan Chase.

 

So I used the tools that the left has used forever. I used shareholder resolutions. I filed them with Apple, and I filed it with JP Morgan Chase calling them out on this. Now, Apple didn't move off the needle on it, but after meeting with executives from JP Morgan Chase, I'm not on the hate list, my group is not, but I've been put on their hate watch list as an individual. After sitting down with the executives at JP Morgan Chase explaining what the Southern Poverty Law Center is, explaining that my Christian faith doesn't teach me to hate, that I'm not raising my daughter to hate anyone, that Christ teaches us to love, I have it in writing that JP Morgan Chase will never donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center again.

 

So we can engage in this arena, and we can't let the Southern Poverty Law Center decide through corporate America what speech is eligible and what speech isn't. But, again, the issue is engagement with these companies. The lawsuits are also a good way to engage, but engaging and investors, engaging as consumers is also wildly important because the left does it constantly. The Southern Poverty Law Center is constantly engaging with these companies, and if we just disengage from them and throw bombs at them and get angry at Facebook and get angry at YouTube, it's not going to do anything. We need to be in the meeting, not outside of the meeting throwing stones.

 

I'm just going to wrap it up there so we can get to some good Q&A.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Great, really appreciate that and appreciate the presentations of all three of our panelists. And now I'm going to kick it back to Micah for a plainly truncated but still I hope engaging Q&A session.

 

Micah Wallen:  Absolutely. We'll now go to our first question.

 

Chris:  Hello, thank you everyone for your presentations. I appreciate it. My name is Chris, and I have a question regarding what listeners can do to be productive elements in this society in this battle you're describing. What would you suggest that we individually do and that we encourage our friends to do so that free speech is not squelched in the First Amendment context by the government or various governments? And also, separate from that with private entities whether it's these internet-based organizations or otherwise, what sorts of measures do you think we can take to really move the needle? Thank you very much.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Panelists, I'll pass it on to whoever wants to take that first.

 

Justin Danhof:  Sure, so this is Justin. In the private space, don't forget the companies we're talking about, Google, Facebook, Amazon, they're publicly traded. Just look at your retirements, you probably hold these stocks. So you can engage them as an investor. Reach out to investor relations, reach out to the general counsel, who's oftentimes the corporate secretary, because they have the ears of the board. So, again, I encourage you to call these companies, email these companies, put in links to the New Yorker article that greatly just goes into detail that basically the horrors of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

And again, it's media on the left, right, and center that have finally woken up. It's these companies that haven't quite yet -- and some government actors as well. So in the corporate sphere, that would be my answer is to engage with the investor relations office and the general counsel's office.

 

Robert Muise:  This is Robert Muise. I'd like to just add one thing. We're all consumers, right, regardless of whether you're a lawyer to file a lawsuit or even shareholders and the like, but we're all consumers. And it's always remarkable to me how the left is able to mobilize and literally to put their money where their mouth is to get a lot of these corporations to go over to the dark side. And I often sit back and wonder, okay, where is our side? Where are our people who are boycotting these companies and making it known to these companies that they're not going to buy into their anti-Christian agenda and be as vocal and as loud as the other side?

 

      I just don't see it as much, and I think as much as we can mobilize everywhere you can, use our social media platform, use your pocketbook to vote with these private organizations. And we just need to do that.

 

Micah Wallen:  All right. We'll now go to our next question.

 

Caller 2:  I want to thank each of the panelists for speaking.

 

      At the first several were speaking about some of the difficulties that they had encountered in direct litigation with the Center. I'd been thinking whether there was a Jiu-jitsu move that was available to bring actions another way which the last panelist's comments brought to a head for me. Has anyone explored the availability of a simple fraud suit to be brought on behalf of donors? Like JP Morgan Chase has determined wow, we were wrong, we relied on bad information, and we gave them money? Why don't they sue? And could lawful class action suits be brought to, perhaps, deal with this from that direction?

 

Robert Muise:  This is Robert Muise, so just a quick comment. So I know we've, my colleague and I, and I'm pretty sure -- I know we've had conversations with others, have talked about the donor fraud component of this, cause there's one other component with the Southern Poverty Law Center. They have, I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million in assets, all right? Half a billion dollars, for those who are keeping count. And there's been reports that they're somewhere in the neighborhood of $100-200 million that is parked in offshore accounts.

 

Now why would a nonprofit C3 need to park any money in offshore accounts? I do think there's some nefarious financial activity going on that could lend itself to some potential litigation. And I know there is some that are looking at that. I don't that there is any particular movement on that front, but I do share your interest in looking at this from the financial perspective as well to see if there might be some way to go after the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

Mat Staver:  The only remark I would have is in addition to donors, you'd have to find someone who donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center and supported their cause and then now wonders whether or not their money was misused and get into litigation that way.

 

      The other is possibly Southern Poverty Law Center's headquartered in Alabama, but it's not the only state in which they operate out of. There may be some options for the state attorney generals to consider investigating aspects of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And also even for the Department of Justice or other agencies in Washington D.C. to do so because there are some serious tax issues in addition to use of funds that have surfaced with regards to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And these are not new, they've been going on for some time, but they recently came to the forefront again this year.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Yeah, and Senator Tom Cotton sent a letter to the IRS, I believe, asking them to consider opening an investigation based on just the outpouring of reporting about all aspects of SPLC but focusing in on some of the fraudulent or at least from the outside looking in, nefarious looking, curious looking ways in which they store and use their money. They have over $100 million, like Robert was saying, stored in offshore accounts and then those accounts continue to grow. These are very out of the ordinary practices for nonprofit corporations.

 

Micah Wallen:  All right. We'll now go to our next caller.

 

Tyler O'Neil:  Hi. This is Tyler O'Neil with PJ Media, had the pleasure of interacting with many of our panelists before and a long-time ally on this issue. My question is how do we get around the way that they've really tampered down on this? They have great damage control on the scandals, so you can send the New Yorker article but a lot of liberals and a lot of people who work with the SPLC think that oh, because they fired Morris Dees and they brought in Tina Tchen, the scandal is largely over. And maybe they're thinking well, wait, but I'm just wondering how we keep that? Cause I'm working on a book about this, but it seems like the impetus and the strength has really kind of died away of this scandal.

 

Justin Danhof:  Well, I would say that the reason they're controversial was -- predates and postdates their own scandal, right? The scandal is just an ear mark in the story of who they are. You can liken it to Planned Parenthood's recent shake up with their CEO, and this is a different topic and people may have different feelings on it, but did they kill babies before, and do they kill babies now? Shoot, it's the same thing.

 

      So they're still mislabeling people and that needs to be the -- and organizations and that needs to be the focus so that they were the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

 

Jeremy Tedecso:  Yeah, and I think that there's -- for the motivated, investigative journalist who wants to make their mark—and I tell this to many that I speak to—there's a story here that's worth uncovering. We've only, I think, seen the outer edges of it and some of it's spilled over in March of this year, but there's a story to be told on many fronts that the internal corruption, the money overseas, and the way in which they cynically trade on people's fears to create this fundraising machine that leads with largely defunct white-nationalist groups and then now, in present day SPLC's terms, adds all their perceived political opponents to the list to malign and censor and ostracize them. And so there's a lot of work to be done, it just takes the willing.

 

Micah Wallen:  We'll now go to our next caller.

 

Caller 4:  Question for Robert about the Michigan case. What are the causes of action that are pending in that suit?

 

Robert Muise:  We advanced three causes of action, two under the First Amendment, the right to freedom of speech, the right of expressive association, and then under the Fourteenth Amendment, the equal protection. Cause what you have is, again, you have the government targeting groups for inclusion in this hate incident database for investigation as apart of this Hate Crimes Unit criminal organization, all because of our particular political views.

 

So you have a direct affront to the right to freedom of speech. You not only have a chilling effect on that speech, you also have the harm which has already happened to our public reputation. Again, it's one thing when you have the Southern Poverty Law Center, which quite frankly is a discredited organization, but now you have the Michigan Attorney General with all its resources and the imprimatur that comes with that is far more pernicious. And so those are the three basic claims that we have advanced.

 

      In notation, there's a Supreme Court case that came out via the Meese case where they were challenging the government's designation of a political film as political propaganda. And the challenges by a candidate who wanted to show that film that that was going to be harmful to his ability to continue on as a candidate because of its negative connotations. He got over the standing hurdle because the court said subjective chilling of free speech isn't enough, but you have that coupled with reputational harm and ultimately, the court ruled against the candidate because they determined that the label of political propaganda was a neutral label.

 

And certainly here, to be designated a hate organization is hardly can be viewed by any reasonable person as some objective label that's not harmful. So there's case law that supports us, but the main three causes of action are freedom of speech, expressive association, and equal protection.

 

Micah Wallen:  All right. We'll move to our next caller.

 

Mitch:  Hello, this is Mitch. I want to thank all you gentlemen for doing what you do. This may be directed for Robert Muise on this Hate Crimes Unit in Michigan. Would a citizen like myself, I want to -- I'm considering FOIAing this database from the Michigan civil rights director. I think any data gathered should be made public and if there's one more source -- more than one source of this data that's being gathered, this should be laid out to the public.

 

Robert Muise:  Yeah, obviously, the FOIA request are available to private citizens. There's obviously exclusions to those if they have data about other organizations and not data about you, they might not disclose that to you because of any privacy-type interests. But if you are included on there, they should disclose that to you unless they obviously -- there's some law enforcement and investigation exceptions, whether that will be provided.

 

      I'm hoping that obviously we get past these motions on the pleadings to get into discovery and to get into further detail of all the protocols that they have or don't have in place for this database. I would like to see how closely they were working with the Southern Poverty Law Center. I find it hard to believe that this just popped up without some cooperation and coordination between the Michigan Attorney General's office and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and if we can make that connection in a way that we could bring the Southern Poverty Law Center into the action, I'll certainly do that as well.

 

      But, yeah, feel free to -- I would send a FOIA request and ask for information about the database, Hate Crimes Unit, and the likes information that might be collected basis for it and all that. You might get a no, though, on many lines, but, again, I'm hoping to get into that through discovery.

 

Micah Wallen:  We'll now go to our next caller.

 

Matthew Feehan:  Hi there, good afternoon. Thank you so much panelists for your presentations today. My name is Matthew Feehan. I'm a recent graduate of Western New England University School of Law. My question goes to academia and the role the Southern Poverty Law Center has within law schools, particularly the pretty much of a strangle hold, at least in my personal opinion.

 

What can be done as far as American Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association reaching out to these accreditation authorities and claiming what basically what I'd describe as a strangle hold that they, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has on these campuses. I went through the thorn bush to get The Federalist Society chapter started off, and luckily, I took it from three people up to twelve in my law school, but still, the Southern Poverty Law Center reigns supreme as far as documents, letters, working with administrations within academia.

 

And then part two is veterans. I just recently returned home from a deployment, and I'm still serving as a reservist down here in Florida. And the veteran community as well, has -- I hate to say this, has become a pawn for left and right political positions as who's got the veteran community? And I'm seeing the same thing happen in academia with respect to the Southern Poverty Law Center really doing well at frankly dominating liberal academia and the veteran community as well. So what can be done there?

 

Mat Staver:  This is Mat Staver. I was a dean of a law school and took a law school, Liberty University School of Law, through all the phases of accreditation, so I'm very familiar with the ABA and the academic world that you're talking about. Unfortunately, I don't think that there's a lot that you can do. Complaining to the ABA is not going to do any good at all.

 

In fact, there's been movement within the ABA that would repeal a particular section of the accreditation provision that allows religiously-affiliated law schools to have an exemption from the sexual orientation provision of the accreditation. So it's just a breath away from forcing all law schools to deal with that including Christian and other religiously-affiliated law schools.

 

      So you're not going to find any friends that you're going to be able to communicate with that will ultimately resolve your situation with the SPLC. However, the ABA, it's a whole different discussion. It may take us off the topic, but the ABA has to be approved by the DOE, Department of Education. And several years ago, about nearly 15-20 years ago, they almost lost and they have been close to losing their approval by the DOE for several reasons over several different occasions.

 

      One was an antitrust lawsuit and a consent to create. Others were different kinds of problems that were in the ABA accreditation process. If you want to affect the academia within law schools, you need to really start with certain areas within academia including the ABA and the best way to start with them is with the DOE.

 

Micah Wallen:  We'll now move to -- I think we'll be able to squeeze in one more question, so we'll move to our next caller.

 

Bill Gilmeister (sp):  Hi, this is Bill Gilmeister from Massachusetts. I have two questions. You talked about Section 240 of the Communications Decency Act, and I'm wondering if there are any other legislative actions or avenues that might be taken. And I suppose the second one is investment advisors getting involved in shareholder activism. Are there any investment advisors, big firms that might be getting involved in this? And how might we engage that end of the thing? Thanks.

 

Justin Danhof:  Sure. So I'll take the latter part of the question. This is Justin. The SCC yesterday actually took some pretty good action on proxy advisors, which is a really big problem when it comes to shareholder ballot voting. Without getting too far into it, the two primary services that advise investors how to vote are both extremely left-wing and they control 97 percent of the market.

 

So shareholder proposals on average ten years ago got two and three percent. And last year they hit a record high of 24 percent. And as the shareholder filer from the right, I can tell you mine still get one and two percent, so these are all left-wing ESG proposals that get in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and now we see some get 50 and 60 percent. So to the extent that fund managers want to get engaged in this process, they need to disengage from using the proxy advisory services of ISS and Glass Lewis because they are now pushing a social justice warrior agenda, not a fiduciary interest agenda.

 

Mat Staver:  This is Mat. I can address part of the Section 230. It's actually 230 rather than 240 in terms of the section of the Communications Decency Act. There is some movement in Congress to address this. In part, there is a potential to have some bipartisanship with this with regards to the censorship of Google, as an example, and others, because I don't think -- how much bipartisanship remains to be seen, but there is some proposed pieces of legislation that are working their way through to the proposal and the submission stage that would ultimately address Section 230.

 

      One of them that we've been working on, it's more of a narrow one, with one of the members of Congress in our Washington D.C. office is to not eliminate the immunity -- I'm in favor of eliminating the whole thing, but not to eliminate it but to require that they not censor "political speech," and the definition of that is not worked out in this proposed legislation.

 

      And that's because Google, for example, outside of the SPLC and others have been in the effort of moving votes and there's some discussion that's going on recently about how many votes they moved to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and how many potential votes they could move, just Google alone, up to 15 million votes in the 2020 election

 

So there's some legislation that’s percolating there. I think now is an ideal time to do some kind of legislative or administrative push back against some of these social networks, including credit card processing companies that literally just shut you down, banking companies, banks that just literally just shut you down with very little or no notice simply because you're on the SPLC watch list or hate list.

 

Micah Wallen:  All right, and with that, that concludes our time. Jeremy, did you have any closing remarks before I wrap up?

 

Jeremy Tedesco:  No, I just wanted to again thank our excellent panelists and thank the audience for a lot of really great questions so appreciate everyone's time.

 

Micah Wallen:  And on behalf of The Federalist Society, I'd like to thank all of our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. We welcome listener feedback by email at info@fedsoc.org. Thank you all for joining us. We are adjourned.

 

Operator:  Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed this practice group podcast. For materials related to this podcast and other Federalist Society multimedia, please visit The Federalist Society's website at fedsoc.org/multimedia.