Rantz: State funneled federal COVID relief to radical political groups, all based on race

Feb 14, 2021, 9:09 AM | Updated: Feb 16, 2021, 2:10 pm
cash bail, bail bonds...
Broken windows at a Tacoma Aladdin Bail Bonds. Some activists find cash bail racist. One group is trying to end cash bail for that reason. In the meantime, they'll pay for a suspect's bail. Now, federal tax dollars helped. (Jason Rantz, KTTH)
(Jason Rantz, KTTH)

The Washington State Department of Commerce gave federal COVID relief tax dollars to nonprofits pursuing radical political agendas. Tax dollars even went to indirectly bail criminals out of jail.

The selection process for funding was based on race. And some of the vetting seems influenced more by ideology than by need.

The Department of Commerce, led by Lisa Brown, aimed to “distribute COVID relief funds equitably to the communities hardest hit by the pandemic.” But to qualify to the Washington Equity Relief Fund, a group of “reviewers” made sure the nonprofits were “led by and serving Black, Indigenous and people of color.”

In other words, if the nonprofit is run by majority white people or serve entire communities, it wouldn’t qualify for assistance. How equitable.

Should federal tax dollars go to political nonprofits, chosen by hand-selected “reviewers” who share the political beliefs of the very nonprofits they’re rewarding, all under the auspices of COVID relief? No.

Radical organizations get COVID dollars

The Department of Commerce partnered with Philanthropy Northwest (where the chair and two vice chairs appear to all be white) to award nearly $12 million in grants to Washington nonprofits. The funds were from the federal CARES Act.

A group of over 100 peer reviewers discussed and scored applications before doling out funding, in collaboration with the Department of Commerce.

The reviewers were “prioritized” on the basis of their race. About 95% identified as a racial minority and 77% experienced poverty. Ironically, the Department of Commerce had the reviewers, who were excluding nonprofits run by white people due to perceived privilege, go through compulsory “anti-bias” training. They were each paid $500.

Excluding nonprofits on the race of its leadership is certainly controversial. But some nonprofits receiving federal tax dollars hold radical left-wing political views. Is this where COVID relief tax dollars should go?

Tax dollars for political advocacy

Not all organizations to receive funding are controversial. You may wonder what the Seattle World Percussion Society would do with $25,000, but their organization doesn’t raise eyebrows.

But other nonprofits receiving tax dollars are concerning.

Collective Justice, part of the Public Defenders Association, is a partisan, social justice group. It actively lobbies light-on-crime policies and is now being propped up by federal tax dollars.

The nonprofit is currently asking supporters to back a Democrat-sponsored bill forcing courts to ignore the juvenile crimes of adult defendants in sentencing. It received $25,000 in federal tax dollars through the state.

Also receiving funds: the Council on Islamic American Relations of Washington (CAIR-WA). It frequently engages in partisan political activism and has fundraised locally for anti-Semitic congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The Anti-Defamation League calls out CAIR for its anti-Semitic leaders and their ties to Hamas and anti-Israel groups.

According to internal documents, the reviewers apparently rejected the application, in part because their budget is already high. It appears the rejection was overruled and they were given $50,000.

Tax dollars to bail criminals out of jail

The Bail Project Spokane received $50,000 from the fund. The nonprofit is part of the national group, which opposes cash bail. It has been responsible for paying the bail for criminals who commit high-profile crimes after release.

Documents from the Department of Commerce suggest this group received inadequate vetting. Based on the rationale explaining the funding, Bail Project Spokane was selected for its political cause, not for being impacted by COVID.

The Bail Project was described as a “small startup program” by internal paperwork to justify the grant. But it is not a small startup.

The Bail Project national organization had an operation budget of nearly $25 million in 2018 and $15 million in 2019, according to Charity Navigator.

Bail Project Spokane docs don’t cite COVID need

The Bail Project Spokane does not reveal how COVID impacted its work in any of the funding documents the Department of Commerce released to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

COVID had to impact the nonprofit in order to receive funding. Indeed, Secretary Brown said the fund was established because “these nonprofits are fighting to survive because the donations and local resources they depend on have dried up.”

Instead, the rationale behind offering the nonprofit tax dollars for COVID relief was tied specifically to agreement with the group’s political activism.

“The Bail Project Spokane addresses inequities created by the cash bail system, which disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities in Spokane,” reads the rationale from Philanthropy NW, provided to them by the nominating organization, Empire Health Foundation. “Many individuals in Spokane are held in jail, pretrial, due to a bond they cannot afford to pay which is commonly less than $500. While some individuals can afford to pay their bond, others are forced to sit in jail for weeks and months before their court dates due to inability to pay.”

This may be a noble cause, but nobility is not a pre-requisite for funding. The Bail Project Spokane did not return emails requesting clarification on how COVID impacted their organization. It’s unclear how they used the grant money.

The Bail Project Spokane, like all nonprofits receiving funding, signed a letter of attestation. It declares: “I agree that my organization has been impacted, including financially, by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

But in this case, it doesn’t explain how.

That’s unlike the Climate Justice Initiative, a environmentalist group that was granted $50,000 from the fund. In its application, it specifically noted that COVID led to cancelled contracts and fundraisers.

Did federal dollars go to bailing out felons?

Did federal tax dollars go to the Bail Project? It’s unclear if it was directly used for that purpose. Indirectly? Yes.

It is the group’s mission to bail suspects out of jail. Any funding to help keep the group operating is funding to help bail suspects out of jail.

The organization’s representative signed an attestation document. In it, it makes promises.

I agree that my organization may be required to provide receipts or additional documentation for up to 6 years following the receipt of any grant funding. If any of the expenses paid with grant money are found ineligible according to Federal Treasury or application guidelines, Grantee agrees to reimburse Commerce the full amount of the grant award.

But a spokesperson for Commerce tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that “none of the organizations awarded grants are required to show receipts,” just that they sign the attestation letter.

Why does this matter? The Bail Project has a track record of bailing out criminals who recommit.

Some controversies

In Chicago, the Bail Project helped pay for the release of 34-year-old Christopher Stewart for an incident with an ex-girlfriend. Stewart allegedly shot a gun into the ground at her 6-year-old son’s birthday party before threatening to kill her. The Bail Project posted Stewart’s bail.

The following month, he was charged for trying to burn her alive inside her apartment. The Chicago Tribune reports that, “police rescued her as she hung out of a kitchen window.”

It was considerably more tragic in St. Louis. Hours after bailing out Samuel Lee Scott in a domestic assault case, he was accused of beating his wife to death. Local leaders with the Bail Project downplayed their role in releasing the accused murderer.

“If he’d just been wealthy enough to afford his bail he would have been free in either case,” Mike Milton, site manager of the St. Louis Bail Project, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Moments like this are devastating, but it’s important not to lose sight of the larger injustices of cash bail and the need for reform.”

Washington isn’t alone with its pandering

Most nonprofits have been hit hard by COVID. They’re not fundraising like they used to, and not just because events have been cancelled. Our pandemic economy means less people have money to give.

That the state is using federal tax dollars to reward nonprofits on the basis of the racial makeup of its leadership or the community it serves is disturbing. But it matches the political pandering of the last several months from Democrat lawmakers. Citing equity goals, Democrats claim they’re fixing historical wrongs. They tend to leave out that those wrongs were established while their party was in power.

Washington state, to be clear, isn’t alone in this woke grant-giving.

The Oregon Cares Fund earmarked over $60 million to exclusively help Black Oregonians and Black-owned businesses. The funding also came from the CARES Act. It now faces discrimination lawsuits.

In Denver, artists from marginalized communities were given priority to one-time grants funded by the CARES Act. A similar program was announced in Boston. Federal funds doled out COVID financial support as “a beginning effort to address the historical disparity in support for BIPOC communities and arts.”

Is this a political slush fund for some groups?

The Washington Equity Relief Fund seems as much about rewarding some nonprofits for their political activism, as it was about helping them cope with COVID interference.

That they hand-picked “reviewers” to go over applications with an eye toward racial diversity, but not ideological diversity, is instructive. Their bias ensures that certain groups will get preferential treatment, even after their anti-bias training.

But more importantly, tax dollars shouldn’t go to partisan political groups.

The vetting doesn’t seem intense based on the Bail Project paperwork submitted. And that the groups promise they must submit receipts, but the WA DOC doesn’t actually require them, suggests there is little oversite. Who ensures our tax dollars staying away from the very activities it shouldn’t fund?

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Rantz: State funneled federal COVID relief to radical political groups, all based on race