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NY AG Tells Organization Unaffiliated with Black Lives Matter Movement to Stop Illegally Soliciting Donations

New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) just used her official authority to order the Black Lives Matter Foundation (BLMF) to stop soliciting New Yorkers for donations. The order is meant to combat a common problem involved with charitable giving: donors are easily tricked and often mistaken as to which organizations will actually receive their charitable donations.

As media attention surged following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, corporations including Apple, Google, and Microsoft raised $4 million for Black Lives Matter. But the corporations realized shortly before handing the funds over that BLMF was not their intended recipient.

While the names are (likely intentionally) similar, the Black Lives Matter Foundation is wholly unrelated to the Black Lives Matter movement. Like many grassroots social movements, the Black Lives Matter movement began as little more than a hashtag, born in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death. It had no formal leadership, fundraising efforts or hierarchy. The movement has grown into a network of different groups across the globe, all of which use the same name.

By contrast, the Black Lives Matter Foundation is a California-based organization whose mission is, according to its website, “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

The foundation was the subject of a cease-and-desist order from the State of California in late 2019. According to that order, BLMF was in violation of California law for soliciting donations without registering with the California Attorney General.

Robert Ray Barnes, the founder of the Black Lives Matter Foundation, previously told BuzzFeed News that his organization has “no relationship” with the official Black Lives Matter movement; a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter said that, despite the similar names, the two are “completely separate organizations.”

Attorney General James has now taken steps to protect New Yorkers from Barnes’s organization, vowing in a press release to “fight for transparency so that donors’ goodwill isn’t preyed upon by opportunists.”

James said that the Black Lives Matter Foundation “failed to register or file any financial documents with the state, and therefore has failed to provide New Yorkers  with information on how their donations will be used.” Therefore, New York State “t[ook] action by demanding that the foundation stop soliciting contributions from New Yorkers.”

The press release from James’s office said that BLMF’s failure to register as a charitable organization in New York state made “contributions solicited within the state illegal.”

[Image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos