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On the charity blacklist

Attendees at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Business

On the charity blacklist

Amazon.com continues to ban some Christian nonprofits from its donate-while-you-shop program

Over a million nonprofits use Amazon.com’s charitable giving program, AmazonSmile, to collect donations. It’s not hard to see why: The online retail giant’s donate-while-you-shop function gave away over $100 million to enlisted charities in 2018.

AmazonSmile’s most popular recipients range the spectrum. They include Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Campaign but also Christian nonprofits such as Samaritan’s Purse and Compassion International. The latter each collected over $80,000. 

But not all Christian charities have been welcome.

That’s because groups like Liberty Counsel, Family Research Council, and the American College of Pediatricians appear on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate list for opposing the LGBTQ activist agenda. According to AmazonSmile’s website, the program relies on SPLC data to identify charities that “engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance [or] hate.” 

This summer, conservative politicians and groups pressured Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to rethink how his company decides whom to ban from its charitable program.

In July, House Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., interrogated Bezos on AmazonSmile’s use of SPLC during Congressional tech antitrust hearings. Bezos said SPLC’s list was “not perfect, and I would like a better source if we could get it.”

Yet back in May, a conservative investor had already made that suggestion, introducing a resolution at Amazon’s annual shareholders meeting that would reconsider its reliance on SPLC. Bezos and Amazon board members opposed it, and shareholders subsequently voted it down.

Frank Wright says SPLC is wrong to paint his group, D. James Kennedy Ministries, as extremist for following Biblical views on marriage and sexuality, and he says Amazon is wrong for listening. Wright’s group was the first from the anti-LGBTQ hate list to sue Amazon and SPLC, and he believes AmazonSmile’s denial has cost him more than lost donations. 

“We received letters and calls from donors, essentially asking: What’s wrong with you guys? When did you become haters?” Wright said via email. “Each donor we communicated with was satisfied by our explanation, but what about the donors or potential donors that never called or wrote to us?”

SPLC states on its website that “viewing being LGBTQ as unbiblical or simply opposing marriage equality does not qualify an organization to be listed as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.” 

However, recipients of SPLC’s anti-LGBTQ designation told me the Alabama-based organization has never told them how they got on the list—or how to get off. 

They further contend SPLC is superfluous because Amazon already filters hate groups out from legitimate charities by requiring all applicants to prove tax-exempt status. In IRS terms, this means groups must annually file under a 501(c)(3) designation.

“Amazon doesn’t need the SPLC to tell them that the KKK is a hate group, and KKK wouldn’t qualify for AmazonSmile anyway because it doesn’t have 501(c)(3) status,” said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona-based legal advocacy group that received SPLC hate group designation in 2016. Amazon booted Alliance Defending Freedom from AmazonSmile in 2018.

That same year, SPLC collected $37,379 from AmazonSmile.