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Silicon Valley Bank donated zero dollars to Black Lives Matter
Tuesday night on Fox News, host Jesse Watters asserted that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) "donated $74 million to Black Lives Matter." That was why, Watters claimed, federal regulators did not pursue more aggressive oversight of SVB's business practices. According to this theory, SVB was treated with kid gloves because it was "woke."
Watters' claim is false. The actual amount that SVB donated to Black Lives Matter was zero. But that didn't stop similar claims from being made repeatedly on Fox News, conservative websites, and social media.
"Silicon Valley Bank, brace yourself, spent more than $73 million on donations to BLM and related organizations," Tucker Carlson declared on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Fox & Friends' Ainsley Earhardt claimed that SVB donated "more than $73 million to Black Lives Matter." There were many more examples on Fox News.
Each claim is phrased slightly differently but they are all false.
The reports are based on a database produced by the right-wing Claremont Institute. The database tracks pledges to groups that are associated with Black Lives Matter, including the BLM Global Network Foundation, The Movement for Black Lives, the BLM Foundation, the BLM PAC, BLM At School, independent local BLM chapters, and fiscal sponsors of BLM groups, including the Tides Foundation and Common Counsel Foundation. According to the database, the total amount that SVB gave to all of these groups is zero.
So where does the $73 million figure come from? The database also includes "organizations and initiatives that advance one or more aspects of BLM’s agenda." The "agenda" of BLM is not defined. Most consider BLM a movement to end unjustified violence against Black people by law enforcement and other acts of racial injustice. But an article by the Claremont Institute that was published in Newsweek, explaining the purpose of the database, says the goal of BLM is to "undermine capitalism, the nation state, and Western civilization."
But an examination of the underlying data reveals the money from SVB went to organizations and initiatives that have little to do with BLM.
In 2021, SVB made a pledge to spend $50 million over five years on an internal initiative called Access to Innovation. The program sought to connect women, Black people, and Latinos with startup funding, networking, and leadership development in the venture capitalist ecosystem. Integrating marginalized groups into the venture capitalist community seems like an odd way to "undermine capitalism," the purpose of BLM, according to the Claremont Institute. And since the program was to last five years, most of the money has probably not been spent. Nevertheless, the $50 million represents more than two-thirds of SVB's alleged support for BLM.
The other major contribution by SVB that the Claremont Institute says was BLM-related was a $20 million donation "to support additional COVID-19 relief" and establish a "full-ride, needs-based University Scholarship program to students at Arizona State University, Florida A&M University, Tulane University, and Xavier University." (The $20 million represented the fees SVB collected for processing loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.) It is unclear what COVID-19 relief and college scholarships have to do with BLM.
The Claremont Institute database also says that SVB spent another $1.2 million on the Access to Innovation program and $1.6 million on "causes supporting gender parity in innovation" in 2020. According to the sources cited by the Claremont Institute, these expenditures actually occurred in 2019. They also have no apparent connection to the BLM movement.
Rounding out the Claremont Institute database is a 2020 "2:1 matching campaign for employees who donate their money or time to social justice organizations, which raised nearly $400,000." The identity of these groups is not disclosed, but the Claremont Institute assumes they must be related to BLM. In addition, the database includes $250,000 of donations from the SVB Foundation in "corporate donations to the NAACP, ACLU, National Urban League and other organizations." (These donations may overlap with the matching program.) The Claremont Institute considers the NAACP and the ACLU to be "BLM partners." In reality they are two of the oldest and most respected civil rights and civil liberties organizations in the United States.
But some "facts" are too good to check and the Claremont Institute's flawed data spread rapidly on conservative websites. Fox Business reported that SVB "donated around $73,450,000 to the BLM movement." A headline in the Daily Mail blared, "REVEALED: Woke Silicon Valley Bank donated over $73 MILLION to Black Lives Matter-related social justice groups." The Daily Wire, another far-right website, wrote that SVB "gave more than $73 million [sic] BLM and related groups."
The claim also was widely shared on social media. A single tweet by right-wing provocateur Charlie Kirk, promoting the Claremont Institute's false claim, was viewed 5.8 million times in less than 24 hours.
This is not the first time that the Claremont Institute has been involved in spreading misinformation. John Eastman, who sits on the Board of Directors and is the Founding Director of the institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, “helped lead [former President] Trump’s drive to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” Despite there being no evidence of any widespread voter fraud, Eastman “wrote confidential memos urging then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject official electoral vote totals” and was reportedly in the Oval Office on January 5, 2021, “argu[ing] to [Pence] that he did have the power to act.”
Eastman also spoke outside the White House alongside Rudy Giuliani on January 6, 2021, “assert[ing] that dead people had voted and that state election officials had ignored or violated state law.” The Claremont Institute stood by Eastman, denying claims that he asked Pence to “‘overturn’ the election” and arguing that he had only “offered legal advice” that was “maliciously misrepresented and distorted by major media outlets.” Former fellows for the institute also include right-wing personalities such as Kirk, Ben Shapiro, and Jack Posobiec, who “promoted the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory.”
The Claremont Institute did not respond to a request for comment. After Popular Information reached out noting various errors in the database, however, it did add the following note to the SVB entry:
*Correction: It has been brought to our attention that the $1.2M and $1.6M figures reflect 2019 spending. The above notes have been corrected to reflect this, and those figures have been subtracted from our total.*
The database now says that SVB donated $70,650,000 to "BLM Movement and related causes."
The “woke” scapegoat
The Claremont Institute report is part of a broader effort to blame SVB's failures on “wokeness.”
Some examples: Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) complained on Fox News that the bank was too concerned “with DEI and politics.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices.” Representative James Comer (R-KY), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, decried SVB as “one of the most woke banks” in the United States. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) attacked SVB on Twitter for “spend[ing] all their time funding woke garbage.” Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler blamed the bank’s demise on its “diverse” board.
Wokeness is a convenient distraction from the real reasons why the bank failed. One of the main factors was a Trump-era law that rolled back banking regulations. Passed in 2018, the law rewrote parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, a piece of legislation that was crafted in response to the 2008 financial crisis. This new law “raise[d] the threshold at which banks are subject to certain federal oversight.” In other words, banks SVB's size now faced less regulatory scrutiny.
Among the supporters for this change was SVB’s CEO Greg Becker, a longtime critic of the Dodd-Frank Act. In his 2015 congressional testimony, Becker argued that the Dodd-Frank regulations “unnecessarily” burdened SVB and “stifle our ability to provide credit to our clients.”
We cannot say definitively what would have happened to SVB if these rules were notrescinded. But we do know for certain that SVB would have been subject to more oversight and regulation. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute explained on MSNBC:
[SVB] would have had to keep better track of the funds it had available to make sudden payments, through what’s known as a "liquidity coverage ratio." That’s reported monthly, so as the bank’s situation deteriorated, it would have been picked up. SVB would have had to undergo an annual Federal Reserve "stress test," to understand how well it could handle difficult situations. It would have had to maintain a "living will," a resolution plan for regulators to use in case the banks were to fail, like they just did.
All these regulations could have slowed or stopped SVB from crashing. And even if the bank still failed, these regulations would have “minimize[d] panic and allow[ed] the FDIC to handle the failure better,” Konczal says.