As bankers, JP Morgan Chase ought to know a bad investment when it sees one. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the company from forking over a half-million dollar gift to the extremists at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Worse still, at a recent shareholder meeting, CEO Jamie Dimon had no good reason for it.
The bank’s head of corporate responsibility explains the $500,000 donation by saying it wanted to “further SPLC’s work in tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations.” The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel sees it differently. “Let’s not mince words: By funding this list, J.P. Morgan and Apple are saying they support labeling Christian organizations that oppose gay marriage as ‘hate groups.’ That may come as a sour revelation to any bank customers who have donated to the Family Research Council (a mainstream Christian outfit on the SPLC’s list) or whose rights are protected by the Alliance Defending Freedom (which litigates for religious freedom and is also on the list).”
These corporate donations (Apple sent $1 million to SPLC) are appalling, she argues. “This undermines the fight against truly hateful groups. Comparing pro bono lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom to hood-wearing KKK members only make the Klan seem more innocuous. Blackballing mainstream groups only silences the moderate voices the country needs to fight hate and bigotry. Corporations have a role to play in calming today’s divisions. This is the opposite.”
The folks at National Center for Public Policy Research decided to do something about it. Justin Danhof of the group’s Free Enterprise Project drafted a shareholder resolution explaining how detrimental JP Morgan Chase’s contribution was to the real cause of intolerance. They ignored it. So Danhof did something the company couldn’t ignore: he publicly questioned the CEO at the recent shareholders meeting. Even the New York Times had criticized the company’s judgment, he explained. Reading from the paper, he said “[I]f Jamie Dimon had done [his] due diligence, [he] would know that the SPLC is an organization that has lost its way, smearing people who are fighting for liberty.”
“Can you explain to us investors,” Danhof pressed, “why JP Morgan is funding anti-religious bigotry and provocation of violence? And what do you have to say to the numerous conservative and religious leaders who have been ascribed such hateful labels by the SPLC?” Dimon blinked and said nothing. His secretary scrambled to answer, but it was too late. The point had already been made.
Afterward, Danhof told reporters:
It’s disappointing, but also telling, that Dimon stood silent in the face of my question. Since he answered a majority of the other shareholder questions, he surely would have spoken up if he had any logical defense for the company’s involvement with the SPLC. Furthermore, my dialogue with other JP Morgan Chase executives — both regarding our previous shareholder proposal and at today’s meeting — leads me leads me to believe that the company may no longer donate to the SPLC. We will certainly be watching.
If companies want to join in the SPLC’s reckless effort to put a target on the backs of their political opponents, that’s their prerogative. But they shouldn’t be surprised when customers exercise theirs to take business elsewhere.
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