The Women's March Inc. released its first batch of financial records on Thursday, revealing the group brought in more than $2.5 million in its heady first year—before its leadership came under heavy fire from former allies.
The documents and the accompanying annual report—provided by the group after a process that can only be described as bizarre—show it spent $1.6 million of those funds on a range of projects. Those include the original March on Washington; the Women’s Convention that took place later that year in Detroit, Michigan; and the 10 Actions 100 Days program aimed at maintaining the march’s momentum and engaging new activists in the nascent movement.
The bulk of the money haul came from merchandise sales—More than $1.1 million from the T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and tote bags that seemed omnipresent in Washington, D.C. as millions gathered in cities around the country to protest the new Trump administration. Another $596,940 came from the convention.
The forms included two large-dollar donors: Stan and Kimberly Van Gundy, the former coach of the Detroit Pistons and his philanthropist wife, who gave $10,000.
The Daily Beast also obtained the 990s for 2017 from another non-profit which provided fiscal sponsorship for the Women’s March, called the Gathering for Justice. Fiscal sponsorships are common for new non-profits before they receive their tax-exempt status. The National Council of NonProfits describes the relationship as providing an “administrative ‘home’” for a new cause.
The Women’s March treasurer, Carmen Perez is the executive director of Gathering for Justice, a social justice non-profit founded by Harry Belafonte that aims "to build a national movement to end child incarceration." Tamika Mallory, the co-president of the Women’s March serves on their board.
Gathering for Justice’s financials show a massive increase in receipts between 2016 and 2017, from $167,021 to more than $1.8 million. It was not immediately clear how much of the increase involved Women’s March-specific funds. The Gathering for Justice did not immediately respond to requests for more information.
The Women’s March annual report notes, “The majority of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington was paid for by our fiscal sponsor, The Gathering for Justice.”
While Gathering for Justice emailed its most recent financial statements three days after they were requested, Women’s March records, public documents subject to disclosure laws and largely mundane, were much harder to come by.
The Daily Beast first requested the records in writing in an August email to co-president Bob Bland that went unanswered. Months later, in response to accusations of misuse of funds from former members of the Women’s March, the Daily Beast again inquired about when the financial records would be available but did not receive a response. (A spokesperson for the march attributed the lack of response in that instance to a misunderstanding as to what specifically was being requested.)
Finally on Wednesday, a Daily Beast reporter visited the company’s New York offices to request the records in person. IRS public disclosure laws dictate that tax-exempt organization “must provide a copy of covered tax documents to an individual who makes a written or in person request at the organization’s principal office.” When the request is made in person, the documents “must generally be honored on the day of the request.” This is generally understood to be within 24 hours of the request.
A member of the Women’s March national staff told the reporter multiple times that the forms were being printed, only to return minutes later and say that the printer was not working. He declined requests to email or fax the forms, saying he wanted to make sure they weren’t “modified.” He instructed the reporter to return 24 hours later for a physical copy.
Just hours later, a spokesperson for the Women’s March called to say the staffer had been mistaken and that the records would be emailed over in the morning.
Even later in the day, The Daily Beast was informed the Women’s March had given The Intercept an “exclusive” on the public financial records and would release them only the next morning, after the news site’s report was published.
When no records were furnished, The Daily Beast returned to the organization’s office, requested and was given the records. As the reporter was leaving the building, reports in hand, a spokesperson called to say she had intended to email them all along and would send them shortly. The 990s and a copy of their annual report were emailed within minutes.
The 990s were disclosed against a backdrop of growing criticism of the Women’s March from sister chapters, former leadership members and high-profile early supporters for what detractors say is an unwillingness to fully denounce the hateful anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT rhetoric of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
The founder of the Women’s March, Teresa Shook, called for the four leaders to step aside in a Facebook post last week. Her decision to speak out left the leadership scrambling to respond—at first issuing a defiant statement saying Shook was a minor part of the movement who was trying “to take credit for our labor.” Later, the group issued a longer, softer statement, acknowledging that they may have hurt their membership but not mentioning Farrakhan by name.
“Every member of our movement matters to us—including our incredible Jewish and LGBTQ members,” the statement said. “We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused, but we see you, we love you, and we are fighting with you.”
In addition to the charges of anti-Semitism, several sister chapters have said the main march has failed to support their efforts financially while at the same time leveraging their donors for the national chapter.
Mercy Morganfield, the former president of the Women’s March DC, has accused the leaders of the national march of co-opting the movement to line their own pockets.
The 990 forms don’t include a detailed rundown of how money was spent, but they show that board members were not taking exorbitant paychecks; salaries of the officers range from $26,400 to $73,404. Half of the program-centric spending was focused largely on the Women’s Convention in October 2017, and the rest was spent on Women’s March on Washington in January 2017 and four smaller events, according to a pie chart in the group’s annual report.
There did not appear to be any donations to sister marches, a key point of contention for some state-based activists—and a point Morganfield has made both online and to The Daily Beast. In fact, on their tax forms, the Women's March Inc. checked off “no” on a question that asked if it has local chapters, branches or affiliates.
Asked for her reaction to the group’s financials, Morganfield was blunt.
“I don’t believe it,” she said of the breakdown of spending. “To me, it’s laughable. It’s like ‘I did not collude with Russia.’”
The controversy appears to be taking a toll.
On Giving Tuesday, one of the most important days in the nonprofit world, a fundraising appeal on the Women’s March Facebook page had just 34 donations, totaling $585.