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Some Conservative Nonprofits Not Welcome by Amazon’s Charitable Program

Lawmakers urge the online retail giant to reconsider ties to SPLC’s ‘hate map’

Christina Darnell

Amazon’s AmazonSmile program makes it easy for customers to donate to their favorite charities—as long as their favorite charity isn’t on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups.”

Amazon’s charitable giving program donates 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to one of more than a million nonprofits. Customers choose the nonprofit they want to support and pay no more than the price of the product they’re buying. In 2018, AmazonSmile gave away more than $100 million, according to WORLD

Amazon’s most popular recipients range from Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign to Samaritan’s Purse and Compassion International.  Compassion collected more than $80,000 last year.

But Amazon determines the list of eligible nonprofits, in part, through the help of Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled groups like Family Research Council, the American College of Pediatricians, and Alliance Defending Freedom as hate groups due to their stances on gender and sexuality. AmazonSmile relies on SPLC to identify nonprofits that “engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance [or] hate.”

Over the summer, conservative lawmakers grilled Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for his company’s use of SPLC’s “hate map” to deny support from the program. Fifteen of them co-signed a letter pressing for more information on the link between SPLC and AmazonSmile. 

“Amazon’s reliance on the SPLC as a barometer to determine the eligibility of charitable organizations on Amazon Smile serves to discriminate against conservative views,” the lawmakers said. The use of the SPLC “reinforces allegations that Big Tech is biased against conservatives and censors conservative views.”

According to the SPLC website, the liberal group tracked 940 “hate groups” across the country in 2019. Its interactive “hate map” allows users to filter by ideology, listing anti-immigrant, Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi alongside anti-LGBTQ and Christian identity. 

“Amazon actively prevents such conservative groups from participating because of how the SPLC has labeled these organizations as ‘hate groups,’” the letter stated. “The exclusion of these conservative groups from Amazon’s heavily-trafficked digital platform leads to less exposure for these groups and fewer opportunities for donations. In this way, Amazon’s reliance on the SPLC as a barometer to determine the eligibility of charitable organizations on AmazonSmile serves to discriminate against conservative views.”

During a House hearing in July, Bezos admitted the company’s system of choosing eligible nonprofits was “not perfect, and I would like a better source if we could get it.” 

But in May, WORLD reported a conservative investor had made such a suggestion, and Bezos and Amazon board members opposed it.

Frank Wright of D. James Kennedy Ministries is one of the charities blacklisted from Amazon’s charitable program and the first to sue Amazon and SPLC. Wright told WORLD the designation 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. “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?”

Other charities labeled as “anti-LGBTQ” told WORLD the SPLC never told them how they got on the list—or how to get off. 

Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the SPLC designations are pointless because Amazon already filters out hate groups by requiring eligible charities to prove they file as a 501(c)(3).

“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. ADF was designated by SPLC as a hate group in 2016 and booted from AmazonSmile in 2018. 

In September, a group of 100 Orthodox Jewish rabbis with the Coalition for Jewish Values also sent Bezos a letter calling for Amazon to discontinue its use of the SPLC hate map, calling it “detrimental and even dangerous to the Jewish community.”

The letter argued that in addition to vilifying charities “based upon nothing more than their advocacy for biblically based beliefs about sexual and family ethics that were uncontroversial a generation or two ago…the SPLC specifically avoids identifying radical Islamic groups as the leading source of modern-day anti-Semitic violence,” and even characterizes groups opposing Islamic terrorism as “anti-Muslim” and hateful. 

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Christina Darnell
Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.

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