Noted political activist Linda Sarsour is under fire for allegedly deceiving people donating to a Harvey relief fund by promoting a 501(c)(3) organization and PAC traditionally focused on electoral politics.
On Monday afternoon, Sarsour tweeted:
Donate to the #Harvey Hurricane Relief Fund. https://t.co/nkFbwgGWDH
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) August 29, 2017
Several right-wing websites then took aim at Sarsour, and questioned whether the funds are actually being used to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Twitter reaction to the anti-Sarsour articles has been swift and consistently brutal–and occasionally racist and Islamophobic. (Sarsour is Palestinian and Muslim.)
Those stories, for their part, mostly rely on the tweets of Twitter user @RobProvince and allege that Sarsour is directing funds to a “leftist” organization that works to get out the vote. One tweet claims, “Not a dime goes to victims.”
Another tweet of @RobProvince’s inaccurately described the fund as a “PAC” or political action committee.
It’s a shocking accusation–and if true, the outrage is well-earned. So LawNewz decided to dig into where exactly the money is being spent.
The link that Sarsour provided in her tweet directs users to the “Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund” which is run by the Texas Organizing Project (TOP). TOP describes the purpose of the project like this:
Rebuilding in areas impacted by Harvey will be most challenging for marginalized communities. Nearly a quarter of Houstonians live in poverty, approximately 550,000 people, and there are about 575,000 immigrants in the Houston metro area. We will work to ensure that Harvey’s most vulnerable victims have access to critical services from first response and basic needs to healthcare, housing and transportation.
Together we will organize and advocate for our devastated communities, shining a spotlight on inequalities that emerge in the restoration of lives, livelihoods, and homes, amplifying the needs of hard-hit communities, and providing legal assistance for residents wrongfully denied government support.
That first paragraph doesn’t sound particularly political, however, the second paragraph does have overtones of political work more in line with what a political action group would normally do. In other words: the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund is apparently a project that’s styled to offer a combination of direct disaster relief work and traditional political organizing.
TOP is connected to the SEIU and MoveOn.org as well other organizations generally considered left-of-center–and concern regarding the fund essentially accuses those “left-wing organizations” of being incapable of providing disaster relief.
We looked into where donations to TOP have been spent in the past, and discovered nearly all of the money spent by the PAC has gone to Democratic politicians. According to OpenSecrets, in 2016, TOP spent $15,509 in support of Hillary Clinton and $4,752 against Donald Trump.
LawNewz reached out to TOP in order to clarify–and break down exactly–where funds raised for the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund are headed, but a full response was not received at the time of publication. A request to Ms. Sarsour went unanswered.
TOP later issued a press release, from Executive Director Michelle Tremillo, which begins:
“We want to be clear on a key point about the Harvey Community Relief Fund, which is being housed within the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund: We have an ironclad commitment that 100 percent of the money raised into this fund will be spent directly on ensuring low income and people of color are not forgotten in the relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts. Not a dime will be spent on any other purpose.”
For the full press release, see here.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated for clarity and to include TOP’s response to the initial allegations.
[image via screengrab]
Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher
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