A political action committee co-founded by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King has allegedly been funneling a quarter of its fundraising money back into for-profit companies linked to its leaders, the Washington Free Beacon reported Tuesday.
Real Justice PAC was founded in 2017 with the goal of accomplishing criminal justice reform by aiding county prosecutors and district attorneys who support liberal policies such as eliminating cash bail, restricting policing practices, and decriminalizing lower-level offenses.
But, according to Free Beacon, since "January of 2019, the PAC has cut dozens of checks totaling more than $460,000 to three political consultancy firms linked to PAC employees."
The reported consultancy firms are Social Practice LLC, which is managed by Real Justice PAC's data strategist, Jin Ding; Bernal Alto LLC, which is managed by the PAC's treasurer, Becky Bond; and Middle Seat Consulting, which was co-founded by one of the PAC's original team members, Hector Sigala.
Ding and Bond are still listed as team members on the PAC's website. Sigala is no longer listed, but according to Ballotpedia, he was listed as of March 2018.
Commenting on the news, Scott Walter, president of investigative think tank Capital Research Center, said: "There are legal and ethical ways to have people in leadership positions at an organization also serve as vendors to the same organization. But these relationships properly raise questions, especially for a group whose leaders include someone like Shaun King, who has repeatedly been accused of enriching himself improperly."
Daily Beast reporter Goldie Taylor made such an accusation in a 2019 article titled, "Where Did All the Money Shaun King Raised for Black Lives Go?"
"For 501(c)(3) charities, the IRS actually prohibits what's called 'private inurement' or excessive benefit to an individual from the organization's coffers," Walter said. Though he acknowledged that Real Justice PAC is overseen, not by the IRS, but by the Federal Election Commission, which "doesn't have such a strict regulation."
"Still," he added, "Groups like Real Justice that routinely criticize their opponents for things like 'dark money' influence — should be prepared to defend practices that let leaders write checks to their own for-profit consultancies."
Here's more from the Free Beacon:
Ding, the PAC's technology strategist, is registered as the manager for the California-based Social Practice LLC and Bernal Alto LLC in the firms' state filings. Social Practice received nearly $250,000 from Real Justice PAC this cycle for campaign consulting and digital services. Bernal Alto, which dissolved earlier this year, was paid $20,000 for consulting and organizing services. Bond, a cofounder of the PAC and former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign, is also listed as a manager for both companies. Progressive digital firm Middle Seat Consulting, which was cofounded by Sigala, received $193,000 from the PAC for advertising services.
The report notes that "it does not appear that King is personally profiting from Real Justice PAC's payments," but suggests that scrutiny is acceptable due to past concerns that King pocketed fundraising money.
Writing in the Daily Beast, Taylor alleged that while some of the money King has raised in recent years has gone to survivors or the families of victims, "much of the largess either went into failed projects, King's own pockets, or is unaccounted for."