Q&A Friday #45: Are The Minutemen Handling Their Money Properly?

Question: “Is Chris Simcox really abusing donations sent in to the minutemen or is this a sleazy trick by the WSJ to blackguard Simcox. Despite all the time and treasure they’ve spent, the editorial board at the WSJ hasn’t changed anyone’s mind that our country will collapse next week without a diaspora of tens of millions of uneducated, unskilled folk in our midst. Since they can’t win the argument on its merits, are they or their confederates making an ad hominem attack on Simcox instead?

Personally, I’m tired of listening to Tamar Jacobi panting with excitement how America will cease to be America if we don’t grant a non-amnesty amnesty to people who have no regard for our country’s laws.” — Cartman

Answer: I’m a big fan of the Minutemen and think they’ve been doing great work.

That being said, when you’re dealing with public donations, your game has to be very tight and there are some indications that something may be wrong with the way that the Minutemen are handling their money.

From the New York Times:

“This movement is much too important to be lost over a question of finances,” Gary Cole, the Minutemen’s former national director of operations, told The Washington Times. “We can’t demand that the government be held accountable for failing to control the border if we can’t hold ourselves accountable for the people’s money.”

The organization has not released any financial statements or fund-raising records since it was created. Several of the group’s top lieutenants have either quit or threatened to do so, saying requests to the group’s president, Chris Simcox, for financial accountability have been ignored, The Times reported.

Mr. Cole said he personally collected “tens of thousands of dollars” in donations during the Minutemen’s 30-day April 2005 border vigil in Arizona. But he said that despite numerous requests, he was never told where the money went.

Mr. Cole said Mr. Simcox removed him as a national director of the border campaign “for asking too many questions about the money.”

…In an interview with The Times, Mr. Simcox estimated that about $1.6 million in donations had been collected. He said in a statement that an auditor had begun an accounting of income and expenses and that a final audit would be delivered to the Internal Revenue Service by Nov. 15.”

According to an article in the Washington Times,

The letter came in response to a report yesterday in The Washington Times that a growing number of MCDC leaders and volunteers had questions concerning the whereabouts of money contributed to the organization over the past 15 months and its ties to Declaration Alliance, a Virginia-based charity headed by conservative Alan Keyes.

They said they had no idea how much money had been collected as part of its effort to stop illegal entry along the U.S.-Mexico border or on what it had been spent. Several top officials have quit or are threatening to do so. Others questioned whether MCDC volunteers received the equipment they needed for their border vigils.

MCDC has not made any financial records public despite concern within the organization and requests by The Times dating back to October.

Saying “tabloid-style gossip of this nature drives readership,” the MCDC letter defended Declaration Alliance.

“The Declaration Alliance and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps organizational entities are both in full compliance with IRS regulatory statutes and filing obligations,” the statement said, adding that financial disclosure forms will be submitted by Nov. 15.

The Minutemen have responded to this, basically, by calling all the people making allegations racists, anti-semites, and creeps, but Chris Simcox did add this in a long response at their page:

“All of our financial operations are overseen by professionals including a caging agency, banking institutions, a professional accountant, a professional auditor, a non-profits specialty attorney, etc. All checks, credit card and any other cash donations received go directly into designated bank accounts, overseen by these professionals. Yes, professionals we have hired (that means donations go to pay them for services) to ensure fiduciary integrity of the funds donated to the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. Everyone must realize that by hiring responsible and respected professionals we ensure the integrity of the operation and keep funds separated from the volunteer national leadership directors.

…Our national leadership team does have their travel expenses covered when engaged in official Minuteman Civil Defense Corps business. My travel expenses are covered by donations, but only when I am traveling for official Minuteman Civil Defense Corps business. Most of my travel expenses are covered by organizations that request my presence at meetings, conferences and other speaking engagements. When I am compensated to speak by a hosting organization, not only do I have the opportunity to travel around the country to educate people about the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps mission and the crisis at the border, but I also have the opportunity to recruit volunteers and solicit for donations to MCDC. Only four of the dozens of trips that I have made in the last year have been paid for out of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps funds. Those trips were to Washington D.C. to work with cooperative organizations and to talk to Congress—the total cost of those four tris comes to less than $3,000.

Our last two, month long border-watch operations cost around $80,000 each, and each 3-day monthly muster costs us at least $1,000 per state, not including travel expenses.

Each of our satellite chapters around the country has received start up funding and continues to be supported by the national organization. Each new chapter receives approximately $1,000 in start up capital to cover expenses. We have a rapidly expanding national organization that needs the support of aggressive national fundraising efforts—it costs money to raise money, but I assure you every penny is accounted for as federal law requires, and is utilized appropriately.

At this time we have a fully accredited, independent auditor undertaking a full accounting of the past years’ income and expenses. We are completing federally mandated accounting and filing of our financial activity for the past year. (Those conspiracy theorists out there forget that the #1 oversight committee on groups like ours is the IRS, aka the federal government, who would be the first to shut us down if there were any improprieties involved with our finances.) We are required to submit our Form 990 filing to the IRS on November 15, 2006.

Once completed, our financial reports will be made available to the public, as required by law, and on the same timetable as all other non-profit organizations.”

That sounds good! Now, where’s the rest of the basic info? Where’s the basic breakdown of how much is being spent on fences, equipment for people in the field, etc. vs. how much is being spent on staff salaries and other backend expenses? Why aren’t they giving out a basic breakdown of where the money is going? $x is going for trips, $y is going for radios, $z is going for staff? Why won’t they open their books? If they want the public to continue to give them money, they need to give out more basic information to insure people that it’s being well spent, especially since serious questions have now been raised about it.

So, are they handling their money properly? It’s hard to say at this point because Simcox is withholding a lot of key info and saying, “Trust us, not the people making allegations.” But, since the Minutemen are taking in money from the public, it seems to me that the onus is on them, not their critics, to prove that they’re being careful with the money they’ve received and as of yet, they haven’t met the challenge.

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