Politics & Policy

The Peace Movement’s Mumia Connection

Why do antiwar contributions go to Mumia Abu-Jamal's defenders?

A two-page advertisement against war in Iraq that appeared in Monday’s New York Times directed donors to send money to a foundation that for years has been devoted to the defense of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The ad, which features an antiwar statement signed by more than 100 well-known Americans, including the actors Ed Asner, Martin Sheen, and Susan Sarandon, writers Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, and Barbara Kingsolver, and musicians Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt, and Pete Seeger, was created by the group Not In Our Name, which has purchased similar ads in other papers around the country. A box at the bottom of the ad asks readers to send donations to an organization called the Bill of Rights Foundation. “We suggest a $200 contribution,” the ad says, “but all contributions large or small help to make the goal possible.”

The Bill of Rights Foundation is a New York-based group that has for years devoted nearly all of its funds to the defense of Abu-Jamal, who shot and killed a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal’s guilt has been upheld during decades of appeals, but his case has become a cause célèbre among some on the Left, who maintain that he was unfairly convicted.

Statements filed by the Bill of Rights Foundation with the Internal Revenue Service for the year 2001, the most recent available, show that the foundation spent a total of $102,152 that year, of which $95,737 went for legal fees (the rest went for assorted administrative expenses). The documents show that $66,874 of that amount went to Leonard Weinglass, who was at the time Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney. Abu-Jamal changed lawyers that year, and the documents show the foundation also paid $21,730 to his new lawyer, Marlene Kamish.

Weinglass told National Review Online Monday that the money he received from the foundation was for work on the Abu-Jamal case. Altogether, the foundation paid Weinglass and Kamish $88,604 in 2001.

In the year 2000, the Bill of Rights Foundation listed $75,956 in total expenses, of which $57,722 was for legal fees. The entire amount went to Weinglass for the Abu-Jamal defense.

In 1999, the foundation listed $155,547 in total expenses, of which $139,126 was for legal fees. That amount, too, went to Weinglass for the Abu-Jamal defense.

The Bill of Rights Foundation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity, which means that all contributions to the foundation — and therefore contributions to Abu-Jamal’s legal representation — are fully tax-deductible.

It is not immediately clear what the two causes, Abu-Jamal’s legal defense and opposition to a war in Iraq, have to do with each other. In a brief interview, Bill of Rights Foundation president Judith Levin told NRO that “the connection was the violation of civil rights of people in this country.” The message on Not In Our Name’s answering machine in New York seems to support that contention, saying the group’s purpose is “to build resistance to this war, to say no to the detentions and roundups of immigrants, and to stop police-state restrictions.”

The Not In Our Name ads have raised a significant amount of money. An article on the group’s website says, “Our biggest problem in managing the statement has been keeping up with the deluge of e-mail and checks. Well over 4,000 people have contributed for the publication of the statement, with over $300,000 received so far.” A spokesman for Not In Our Name said that money sent to the Bill of Rights Foundation in response to the Times ad will be “used exclusively for the purpose” of publishing the Not In Our Name statement in other publications.


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