According to stories bursting across the right-wing mediasphere today, a key reason for the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was its focus on spreading “woke culture” rather than efficiently managing risk and profits. Ground zero for this is the allegation that SVB had donated over $73 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes.” That struck me as quite a lot of money for a single company, even a large and profitable one, to give to any cause or even all causes. So I tried to find out where this factoid came from and rapidly found my way to a Trumpist think tank. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s a complete lie. I want to show you the receipts, but first some key details.
The claims come from a database posted earlier this week by the Center for the American Way of Life, a project of the Claremont Institute. As Claremont put it in a Newsweek article introducing the database, “Americans deserve to know who funded the BLM riots.”
Claremont has been around for many years — I actually spent a summer many years ago as a research assistant at another think tank very loosely associated with it — and it’s always been on the right. But it’s undergone a sort of hyper-right-wing rebranding in the Trump era and now presents itself as the group trying to provide an intellectual, let’s say PhD-based, underpinning to Trumpism, sometimes termed “national conservatism.”
Now back to the database. Even if it had nothing to do with SVB’s collapse, is it really possible that the bank contributed almost $74 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes?”
The database allows you to look up various corporations and see what they’ve donated to “BLM.” It lists SVB pledging $73,450,000 and says they followed through on the commitment. The database provides links to nine SVB documents as sources for this claim. They’re a mix of corporate responsibility type publications and corporate filings. There are various discussions of support for inclusivity and DEI efforts, which the database authors likely believe are synonymous with “BLM.” But I scanned through each one of them and found no reference to anything remotely backing up the claim. The closest thing I found that bore any relationship to this number was a company newsletter which discusses “reinvesting in low- and moderate-income (‘LMI’) communities” in California and Massachusetts. It mainly talks about financing small business loans and mortgages over the next five years (2021-2026) but also mentions $75 million “in charitable contributions.”
If the scale of all the bank’s giving over five years is $75 million, it sounds hard to imagine it’s given or will give that amount of money just to “BLM.” Another newsletter said the bank’s total charitable giving to all causes in 2019 was $8 million. Yet another newsletter said that $1.2 million in the company’s charitable contributions in 2019 went to “supporting opportunities for diverse, emerging talent in innovation.” Since presumably that giving had something to do with Black people, let’s assume for the sake of conversation, as Claremont clearly does, that that’s “BLM.” Even if that’s true, it still suggests a level of giving to anything related to diversity issues that is only a tiny fraction of the claimed $73 million number.
It’s hard to prove a negative. I didn’t find anything to back up Claremont’s claim in any of the cited documents. And as I note above, what I did find suggests that any giving to anything tied to civil rights or diversity or just Black people generally must be at least an order of magnitude smaller than the claim that’s being picked up by right-wing media. But what this database is really about became clearer when I looked up some other companies.
Let’s start with 3M.
Claremont lists 3M pledging a whopping $50 million to “BLM.” But the cited document, published in September 2020, appears to be mainly focused on supporting STEM learning in Black communities. It’s a pledge of $50 million over 5 years and lists $6 million in initial investments. That $6 million consisted of $5 million to the United Negro College Fund for work in St. Paul, Minnesota; another $1 million is slated for “annual investment to social justice partnerships, led by our employee resource network community champions and building on the initial investment from 3M Foundation in 2020.”
For Claremont, these are all “BLM.”
Next up is Chevron, which Claremont reports pledged $15 million to “BLM.”
What does the actual cited document say? That $15 million went to $7 million in grants to historically Black colleges and universities; $1 million to the Executive Leadership Council; $5.1 million in grants to three foundations supporting k-12 education; $2 million to the United Negro College Fund; $1.6 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and $1 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Again, for Claremont, that’s all “BLM.”
How about Abbott Labs, the folks who make the swabs you put up your nose to see if you have COVID. Claremont says they gave $25 million to “BLM.” What’s the document say? They pledged $25 million to a joint project with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to “provide diverse small businesses with the tailored growth capital, loans and support they need to compete, grow and create jobs.” The LISC was founded in 1979 and according to its site has “invested $24 billion to create more than 436,320 affordable homes and apartments and develop 74.4 million square feet of retail, community and educational space.” A number of other companies in the database also gave to LISC for various projects. But again, it seems adjacent to Black people, so that’s “BLM.”
Costco also gave $25 million to “BLM.” Turns out it was grants to LISC.
What about the $1.5 million Claremont reported Campbell’s Soup giving to “BLM.”
Those were grants to Black Girls Code, National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Campbell Canada’s Black History Month Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Boris L. Henson Foundation. Again, tied to Black people, so it’s all “BLM.”
Then there’s Boeing’s $15.6 million to “BLM.”
You can see the cited list of recipients here. The largest recipients include the Seattle Children’s Hospital, United Negro College Fund, Chicago Urban League, D.C. College Access Program and the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering, Inc. Again, you can see the full list here.
Rather unbelievably Claremont lists Bank of America as giving more than $18 billion to “BLM.”
The cited documents appear to report only $1.25 billion and that appears to be almost entirely going to financing for housing and business development in minority communities. So this money may be targeting minority advancement, but its in the form of loans that BOA will get paid back for. An apparently tiny fraction of that total (no specific numbers are cited) goes in grants to organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.
Claremont reports that Walmart pledged $100 million to “BLM,” $14 million of which has already been granted.
According to the cited document recipients include American Heart Association (AHA), Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund ($5 million); U.S. Vaccine Adoption Grants; The King Center; and the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE).
Again, for Claremont, it’s Black-people adjacent, so that’s BLM.
Other highlights include Cargill’s support for something it calls Black Farmer Equity Initiative.
You get the idea.
There are dozens more companies that are listed. I assume I’ve given enough examples to make the point. Click the link up above and do more research yourself. But the big picture is this: behind the claims about corporate donations that “funded the BLM riots” are contributions that went mostly to organizations like the United Negro College Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Urban League, various community and housing organizations and organizations funding STEM learning for Black children and young adults.
Perhaps I missed some citation in those 9 documents to back up the $73 million claim about SVB. But if I did it’s almost certainly nowhere near that sum, and it almost certainly means “BLM” in the sense of college scholarships for Black high schoolers, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or some program at the American Heart Association to reduce the incidence of heart disease among Black people.
The vast majority of the organizations are highly mainstream and even corporate in their focus (supporting minority-owned small businesses, recruiting minority employees in STEM fields). The ones that aren’t mainly focus on housing, closing gaps in medical care in minority communities and supporting STEM education and coding. In many cases, the cited documents include no information to support the purported dollar amounts at all. In some cases a claim about one corporation is backed up with a document about another corporation entirely. So there’s a high degree of slapdash and incompetence involved. But the general message is that anything in any way connected to Black people in pretty much any way is “BLM riots,” and explicitly supporting mayhem and violence.